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What is the status and impact of Polyandry in Africa?


We all are familiar with the term ‘Polygamy’, but only a few know about ‘Polyandry’. Polygamy has been in practice in many countries and regions for so many years. However, Polyandry is also prevalent in some countries like Africa, but we still need to educate ourselves on the topic. Hence we have brought for you, the brief explanation on what Polyandry is and how does it impact Africa.

What is Polyandry?

If you know what Polygamy is, Polyandry is somewhat similar to it. In fact, polyandry is a form of polygamy. To clarify, in Polygyny a man can marry multiple women and have more than one wife at once. However, Polyandry is exact opposite of it. In polyandry, a woman can marry multiple men, and have more than one husband.

polyandry symbol
Symbol of Polyandry
Source: Dreamstime.com

Where is Polyandry practised?

Even though having multiple spouses for women sounds strange or rare, the practice is common in a few countries. You might associate the term Polygamy with Islamic religions, but actually, it’s more than that. For example, Fraternity Polyandry, where a woman is married to brothers, is common in Nepal and is associated with the cultural beliefs of the country.

Other than that, Polyandry is practised in a few ethnic groups in India. It is associated with Draupadi from Mahabharata, who was married to five Pandava brothers. However, Polyandry is majorly known to be practised in Africa.

Polyandry in Africa: Legality and Reasons

If we talk solely about the African continent, the practice of Polygyny has been more prevalent than Polyandry. Certainly, Polygamy has been a legal concept in African countries. However, the commonality of Polyandry varies within the nation. For instance, in the lake region of Central Africa, Polyandry has been a common practice than Polygyny. On the other hand, it is not a common custom in Kenya.

These practices have been prevalent in Africa with the spread of Islam. Africa is a country where having multiple spouses is legal. Also, polygamy is also driven by tradition. Although gradually with time, polygamy became a taboo in Africa, still, it exists in few countries. For example, in Gabon, both men and women are allowed to have multiple spouses. In contrast, although the Kenyan law doesn’t explicitly forbid polyandry, still it is uncommon there. The custom of having more than one husband is common in D R Congo, where they call it ‘hohombe’ which means “wife of the village”. Nigeria and Tanzania are also involved in Polyandry.

Kenyan twin brothers married same girl.
Source: Medium

The reason for Polyandry varies from place to place. For example, in Kenya, two men married the same woman because they both were in love with her. In few places, Fraternity polyandry is practised to keep the inherited land intact. The Grand Canary Island started practising Polyandry due to shortage of females after the famine of 14th and 15th century. Gradually, these practices became a common part of the custom.

Impact of Polyandry in Africa

For you and us, it might sound normal to have multiple spouses and we might look at it as a tradition. However, we are yet not aware of the impacts of Polyandry or Polygamy in general entails. Let’s point them out-

  1. It has led to increasing in crimes as the co-spouses tend to fight each other out of jealousy
  2. The practice of multiple men or women has resulted in increased STD cases in men.
  3. It has led to increase in the number of malpractices in Africa.
  4. This custom poses a high risk to Gender equality in Africa.
  5. African women have become victims of sexual conflict and sperm competition.
  6. All the above mentioned points are keeping Africa away from achieving the Sustainable Development Goals provided by the United Nations.

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