Polygyny and Canada’s Obligations under International Human Rights Law
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Department of Justice, Canada
Discrimination, Hetero / sexism, Human rights, Islamophobia, Legal literacy, Racism, Social justice
Research report / thesis / dissertation, Resources; government & legal

Cook, R. J., & Kelly, L. M. (2006). Polygyny and Canada’s Obligations under International Human Rights Law. Family, Children and Youth Section Department of Justice Canada. https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/other-autre/poly/poly.pdf 


This report provides an in-depth analysis of polygyny in the context of International Human Rights Law. The report is divided into 8 sections. The first section provides an introduction regarding polygyny, such as the definition of the term and the perspective of Canadian law regarding the practice. The second section outlines the harms of polygyny such reinforcing patriarchy, the harm of non-exclusivity, competitive co-wife relationships, mental health harms, sexual and reproductive harms, economic harms, harms to enjoyment of one’s citizenship, and harms to children. The third section notes polygyny as a violation of international human rights law and includes information regarding international treaty and convention law, family life, security and citizenship. The fourth section provides arguable limits on women’s rights such as the right to freedom of religion and right to non-discrimination on grounds of religion/ethnicity, the right to enjoy one’s culture, and the right to respect for one’s private and family life. The fifth part of the report discusses state practice and opinion juris, noting which countries outright prohibit polygyny such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, United States, Tunisia, and Turkey. In addition, restrictions on polygyny are noted in this section. Part six of the report outlines means chosen to prohibit polygyny such as challenges of transition and balancing a respect for cultural and religious contexts with the protection of individual human rights. The last section of the report provides information about fostering compliance with equality rights in marriage and the family such as improving dialogue, Canadian obligation under International Human Rights Law, Monitoring of Canada’s obligations under the women’s convention, and monitoring of Canada’s obligations under the political covenant and the children’s convention.


The Teaching Against Islamophobia resources were developed with funding support from the Law Foundation of BC, and the Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies at SFU.

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