Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Polygamous Marriages in Zimbabwe: The Case of Gutu District in Masvingo Province

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Polygamous Marriages in Zimbabwe: The Case of Gutu District in Masvingo Province

Article excerpt

Polygamy has been a prominent feature in most communities worldwide. It is deeply rooted in the early lifestyles of our ancestors. Over the years, polygamy has become the subject of numerous books, journal articles, heated debates, discussion papers, and theme for women activist groups, web pages, and even cable television shows. Consequently, many contrasting policies in different communities have been adopted in relation to polygamy. Polygamy is the exercise of marrying more than one wife or husband at a given time.

A study conducted by Berkowitz (2007) notes that about eighty-three percent of human societies permit polygamy. Although the worldwide percentage of men with more than one wife is relatively minuscule, as many as a third of the world's population belongs to a community that allows it. If one were to consider the patriarchal characteristic of many societies around the world, it is safe to conclude that there is a potential for the unequal and discriminative treatment of wives by their husbands in polygamous marriages. With this in mind, there is an urgent need to address such treatment of women in polygamous marriages, regardless of their social, cultural, religious and economic background.

There are some cases where wives in polygamous marriages have suffered. In a study of 9 women in polygamous marriages conducted by Nurrohmah (2003) it was found out that all 9 women had experienced psychological abuse; 5 of them suffered physical, economic and sexual abuse.

It would be a mistake to believe that all polygamous marriages are abusive. These views were often rationalised by feelings that polygamy forms unfair treatment amongst co-wives since the husband cannot take care and cater for the needs of more than one wife, and that polygamy provides men with "boundless power and authority" (Dangor 2001).

Where co-existence amongst the families seems to be practiced, relationships between co-wives have been found to be especially beneficial to women's economic and political power (Yanca and Low 2003). While women might initially feel uncomfortable and envious when a new woman enters the household, these sentiments usually fade away as the family and community work to ensure harmonious relationships and the equal treatment of the wives. In a study conducted by Rehman (2011), a small proportion of women indicated that they would agree to enter into polygamous marriages if given such an option. Many women living in polygamy support plural marriage and appear to find happiness and satisfaction within their family structures (D'Amour and Carmichael 2004). Some women even encourage their husbands to marry additional wives (Chambers 1997, p. 73-74). Certain anecdotes reveal genuine love and companionship among polygamous spouses and within their entire family unit, leaving us to question whether polygamy is intrinsically damaging to the spousal relationship (Palmer and Perrin 2004; Solomon 2003).

Children, however, can be badly affected by polygamous marriages. The disputes that happen between co-wives more often than not prove damaging to the children in polygamous families. In addition, polygamous thoughts and beliefs may be limiting to children thus blinding them "from the existence of life outside polygamy" (Ward 2004, p. 149). Such children tend to believe that the polygamous lifestyle is the only way out and hence they often end up attached to a polygamous life style. Children attached to polygamous lifestyle view polygamy as the only key leading to happiness in life.

Christian polygamists who claim to come from conservative churches quote Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and cite Biblical patriarchs to support their accepting of polygamy as something scriptural. Shipps (1987) depicts Mormonism as the fourth great Abrahamic tradition, standing in relation to contemporary Christianity just as early Christianity once did to Judaism. Sullivan (2007) and Gordon (2001) illustrate the centrality of federal efforts to eradicate Mormon polygamy by defining the nature and limits of what is officially, legally, and constitutionally legitimate religious practice in the US. …

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