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Polygamy: Does Senegal beat the world record?

23 September 2021, Mounas Dieng
Polygamy: Does Senegal beat the world record?

It seems that Senegal has the highest proportion of polygamists on the African continent.

First of all, the legislation provides that the spouses can opt, by marrying, for the matrimonial regime of their choice. It is obvious, however, that some women will psychologically refrain from choosing monogamy, even if they deeply desire it, their education having oriented them more towards a polygamous idea of marriage.

Then a woman cannot be forced to become a second wife.

Finally, if the first wife does not accept a situation of polygamy, she has the right to ask for a divorce. It is obvious, however, that if she has no means of subsistence, her choice remains limited. In addition, the social pressure is such and customs are so deeply rooted that it is difficult for him to take an orientation in accordance with his own personal desires.

Who says polygamy says more married women than men. But, contrary to ideas that are still widely held, including in Africa, polygamy does not result from a natural surplus of women in the population, nor from the permanent celibacy of a large part of the men.

The explanation is elsewhere. The marriage of women is early (18-20 years), that of men late (25-28 years), the man waiting to have sufficient financial resources to marry in just marriage. This lag of 5 to 10 years puts in relation a number of young girls to marry who can be 15 to 30% higher than that of men seeking a wife.

In addition, Senegal is, let us remember, a 90% Muslim country in which the celibacy of women is experienced as a situation of waiting.
Religious norms, in fact, enhance the status of wife and definitive female celibacy is almost non-existent Also, after divorce or widowhood, women remarry all the more easily since men, even already married, can marry them, which opens different paths to polygamy.

The other explanatory factors are both:

- economic (productive value of women and children, especially in the countryside)

- religious (Islam)

- social (human prestige)

- political (power of men and elders).

A number of changes are taking place within the country.

As economic hardships intensify, the aspiration for a large family is diminishing. Family solidarity being the keystone of the Senegalese family, the larger its size, the more those who manage to cope with it have constraints and obligations towards its members.

However, abandoning polygamy implies a different functioning of society and a questioning of the power of men over women. This matrimonial system, in fact, is a source of inequality: it gives more rights to men than to women, more power to the rich than to the poor who will be able to have more wives and profit from their work. and that of their children (especially in the countryside). It tends to exclude the child born out of wedlock.

It is difficult for a Western woman to express any opinion as our society which operates on monogamy does not always seem to be a successful model.

How many women, for example, after a divorce find themselves alone without the means of subsistence? How many children are disturbed because they are torn between their two parents? And how many fathers are deprived of their offspring that they love? Separations have become too frequent and many couples at the slightest crisis or hitch choose to separate rather than calmly analyze the situation and face it.

In this regard, it is possible that Senegalese society offers more stability to the family and especially to children (except those born out of wedlock), but to the detriment of the woman on whom the man always exerts pressure by this possibility that 'he has to take another one at any time.
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