Sunday, May 26, 2013

Take II: Polygamy in the Press

Its Sunday night and I'm sleepy. Twas a relaxing weekend which brought some much needed relief from work stress. I went fabric shopping (!!) and laid out at the beach, discussing prostitution and polygamy with friends. Success, in my book.


The beach was absolutely packed today, the sky hazy and air heavy.



Today's prompt for the Blog Every Day in May Challenge is to share something I read online, leave a link, and discuss. After dropping the polygamy bomb yesterday, I wanted to round up some links on the topic of polygamy in Africa, highlighting points I find interesting or enlightening, and potentially educational for the public ;)

Before studying African studies in college (and before spending a semester in Senegal), I didn't even realize there were countries and communities where people still practiced polygamy in the open. Partially in response to this realization, I focused much of my undergraduate studies on women's rights in Africa and researched topics like female circumcision, micro-finance, polygamy, and the influence of tradition and religion on female empowerment in developing countries.

But the topic is so vast and complex, and my opinions and experiences fairly complex as well... its hard to know where to even begin tackling the subject. Its Sunday night and my head isn't in a place to sum up my thoughts and opinions in an eloquent manner. So that discussion will take place gradually on the blog as I share cultural tidbits from my time living in Senegal and traveling in West Africa, and how my perspective and understanding has evolved and deepened over time.

Finding relevant articles turned out to be a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. I don't really think these articles paint a complete picture of the topic, but they are informative nonetheless. Also the tone a lot of journalists use to write about polygamy is aggravating, and their perspective limiting. Those caveats aside...

1) Here is one somewhat interesting article I found, "On Thursday, It's Wife No. 3 in Polygamous West Africa," from almost ten years ago.
Today, Sene's three wives have separate apartments in the luxurious villa of high ceilings and grayish-white-streaked marble floors. 
At night, the wives often gather in their husband's room to watch TV, before two retire to bed, leaving just one behind. 
"Polygamy is in the mind," Sene said, his wives signaling agreement. "Those who have not experienced it don't know anything about it and therefore criticize it."

2) And then I stumbled upon this article, African Women in France Battling Polygamy, discussing polygamy in African immigrant communities in France... from 1996!
Mr. Djaara asserts that polygamy is hardest for the husband because his wives fight a lot, he has his job and does all the shopping. He shops because he must control all the money, he said. 
Given his complaints, why does he want more than one wife? "My father did, my grandfather did, so why shouldn't I?" Mr. Djaara said. 
"When my wife is sick and I don't have another, who will care for me?" Besides, he said, "one wife on her own is trouble. When there are several, they are forced to be polite and well behaved. If they misbehave, you threaten that you'll take another wife."

3) A similar article in the New York Times on polygamy in New York African immigrant communities.
“It’s difficult, but one accepts it because it’s our religion,” said Doussou Traoré, 52, president of an association of Malian women in New York, who married an older man with two other wives who remain in Mali. “Our mothers accepted it. Our grandmothers accepted it. Why not us?” 
“The woman is in effect the slave of the man,” said a stylish Guinean businesswoman in her 40s who, like many women interviewed in Harlem and the Bronx, spoke on the condition of anonymity. “If you protest, your husband will hit you, and if you call the police, he’s going to divorce you, and the whole community will scorn you.” 
“Even me,” she added. “My husband went to find another wife in Africa, and he has the right to do that. They tell you nothing, until one afternoon he says, ‘O.K., your co-wife arrives this evening.’ ”
4) This simple blog post by a study abroad student from a few years ago was interesting too, especially the comment by Kineh (who I would guess is Senegalese):
But, in fact, many of Senegalese women ARE NOT in love, neither loving, their husbands. The main responsibility and chastity of a husband is not sexual fidelity, but sufficent financial support. That is why many women accept becoming second, third or fourth wife... and that is also the main reason why many first wives do not want to have a co-wife; not because of jealousy (eventhough that occurs too, often), but mainly because of material reasons.
 5) And if you're interested in a headache, check out this academic article written by an Oxford professor who reduces polygamy in Africa to a mathematical equation. I can't help but chuckle at academia when I read articles like these nowadays! {I'll be honest, didn't make it past the introduction.}



This post was written as part of the Blog Every Day in May Challenge (2013).

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