When I was about to get married, the mayor at the civil status registry here in Cameroon asked if my fiancé and I would choose monogamy or polygamy. In a playful tone he went on to explain how his father did not have a problem getting enough laborers for his large cocoa farm since his numerous wives produced several children who could work.
How could one think of children as workers? This is not a topic to discuss comically. Those soft cute human beings that we bear should be cuddled and nurtured.
The practice of a man marrying two or more wives has far-reaching effects on women and children. The eradication of this harmful cultural practice will bring more socio-economic development to impacted communities.
Take a look at popular lines used in a quarrel between two women married to the same man:
“Useless woman, you do not even know how to keep a man.”
“You, prostitute! Is that how you go about snatching people’s husbands?”
“Well I have come here to stay.”
“We shall see, I will make sure you leave this marriage.”
Arguments like this are recurring in such marriages. A battle of words is often followed by a battle of fists. This is definitely an unhealthy environment to live in.
Over the years I’ve observed that polygamous homes are often hotbeds of envy. My husband lost his twin brother shortly after they were born. His father had seven wives and my mother in law was the only one who bore him twins. This attracted jealousy from the other women. The poisonous atmosphere of envy and competition was toxic to this family. Before she died one of the wives confessed to using witchcraft to kill one of the twin babies.
Writing about the negative effects of polygamy on women, Von Struensee states that, “polygamy negatively impacts a women's health, including mental health, sexual and reproductive health and her death from AIDS.”
When Fon Fosi Yakum, the former traditional ruler of Bambalang, a village in Northwestern Cameroon took ill, his numerous wives were frustrated because they could no longer go to spend nights with him, something they enjoyed doing on rare occasions.
The discontented queens began seeking ways to satisfy their sexual desires elsewhere. Many of them left the village for a nearby town to find boyfriends that could fill the gap.
According to traditional rules, that was an abomination. The estranged queens got exiled from their village. Fon Fosi finally died, leaving a throng of widows, among them young ambitious ladies longing to be loved but instead cast out from the home they knew.
A household that includes a man with many wives and children does not look like a marriage. It looks like an empire, with the man as the boss and the women as his childbearing machines.
Supporters of polygamy claim that since there are more women than men on the earth, a man needs to marry many women to ensure that they do not lack husbands. However, a report by the CIA World Factbook states that the 2013 estimate of total world population ratios is 1.01 male to every 1.0 female. Therefore, slightly more men exist than women.
Polygamous men argue it is boring to have sex with one woman all the time. Having many wives ensures variety and sexual gratification. Yet this increases the potential for women and men to contract and spread sexually transmissible infections, including HIV/AIDS.
It puts women, who are more vulnerable, at a greater risk of getting sick and eventually dying.
Men are permitted to have a sexual variety but if woman dares that, she is ostracized. Patriarchy is eating up our societies.
Marriage should be a loving relationship in which a woman and her chosen man share a committed and lawful union. When other women get involved, it kills the flavor of romance that is supposed to surround two love birds.
As a modern African woman, I stand by my own commitment. I can never be a first wife, I can only be a wife and that is it!
If every woman refuses to become a second, third, fourth or fifth wife, polygamy will be history.
REFERENCES Von Struensee, Susan Vanessa M.G., The Contribution of Polygamy to Women's Oppression and Impoverishment: An Argument for its Prohibition (July 23, 2004).Sourced on Monday August 26th from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=563282 The CIA World Factbook
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital empowerment and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.Voices of Our Future 2013 Assignments: Op-Eds