Female Candidate Encourages Polygamy as Solution to 'Spinsterhood' in Emirates

A woman running for office in the United Arab Emirates is encouraging Emirati men to marry more than one woman to solve the problem of "spinsterhood" in the country of 9.68 million.

Khawla Al Ali is one of the 495 candidates running for 20 seats in the UAE's Federal National Council (FNC) next month. She kicked off her campaign on Sunday with banners bearing her face and her slogan: "For a spinsterhood-free society, [say] yes to polygamy." The signs—posted all over Sharjah, the emirate she is hoping to represent—refer to unmarried women as unussa, an Arabic slur meaning "a branch that withers and becomes useless."

But Al Ali, who is not married, says the topic of polygamy needs to be seriously considered.

"I have always believed we should look at polygamy more subjectively," Al Ali, a public library employee, told the English-language site The National. "Since I was a teenager I have dreamt of helping bring couples together and thinking about how we can connect people."

لمجتمع خالي من العنوسة
المرشحة / خولة آل علي #انتخابات_المجلس_الوطني pic.twitter.com/jPWESy7gQ6

— 🇸🇦🇦🇪 حمـد الحـوسنـي (@Hahosani) September 8, 2019

Married friends frequently approach her with problems that could be solved by allowing the husband to take another wife, she says. Her hope is to "offer suggestions and effective solutions with the concerned authorities to create the appropriate conditions to increase the stability of the Emirati household," according to UAE Today.

Calling herself a voice for men and women—including unmarried, divorcees and widows looking for a father figure for their children—Khawla said she expects to attract a high percentage male voters "and sane women voters," according to the Arabic daily Al Bayan.

Reactions to her message online have been mixed, though. "Dear voter, don't hesitate, pick Khawla Abdel Aziz (Al Ali)," said one man on Twitter. "she's the obvious choice. This is my slogan for this evening."

عزيزي الناخب لا تتردد ولا تحتار مع #خولة_عبدالعزيز خلك بديهي في الاختيار. 😎 هذا شعاري لهذا المساء #انتخابات_المجلس_الوطني

— المايدي (@MajedDotCom) September 9, 2019

Another man criticized Al Ali's slogan for insulting women.

"Instead of demeaning Emirati women with this proposal, she should've presented a program that treats major issues in our society and things that'll help develop our nation."

Polygamy is legal in the UAE, though uncommon. A Muslim male may have up to four wives, provided he can offer equal support and treatment to all.

It's often raised as a catch-all solution for economic disparity and population decline, usually in conjunction with the misconception that there are more women than men in the country. In 2018, the FNC proposed extending housing grants and loans to men who took second wives.

But, including foreign workers, women make up less than a third of the UAE's population. Thanks to increased birth control options, the rising cost of living and higher rates of education and employment for women, the fertility rate has dropped from 6.6 births in the early 1970s to 1.8 in 2015.

Opportunities for women have improved for women in the UAE in recent years. Under the Constitution women have the access to education, health care, employment and titles, as well as the right to inherit property. Women make up 70 percent of university graduates in the UAE and represent 43 percent of the investors at the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange.

In 2004, Lubna Khalid Al Qasimi became the first woman to hold a ministerial post in the UAE.

polygamy united arab emirates
Khawlah Al Ali's ads refer to unmarried women as unussa, an Arabic slur meaning "a branch that withers and becomes useless." Getty Images