POLYGYNY may engender considerable domestic unhappiness and tension due to competition between co-wives.
This is not to say polygyny is always resented- some mothers and sisters would therefore, encourage their brothers and sons to enter polygynous marriages because these help to increase the size of the lineage.
Among some Atoenede Kusasi women in the Zebila District of the Upper East Region, having co-wives means a reduction in farm and domestic chores and less stress.
In the absence of studies of the potential interactions between polygyny and poverty, it is reasonable for now, to suggest that where polygyny produces large families, this triggers the association of the latter with the various resource constraints of poverty.
At the same time, there are conflicting views and evidence on the relationship between polygyny and fertility. One study found no association between a woman’s marital status and her fecundity, but that child deaths were 7-11 times higher under polygyny.
A different study suggested that among women of child bearing age, those in marriages with a single co-wife showed a lower rate of production of surviving offspring than women with two co-wives. Children of the latter also showed better growth rates.
If polygyny husbands reduce sexual contact with some wives, they might have lower chances of pregnancy than others. If conjugal time is shared equitably, as is customarily required, there might be relatively less inter course for each wife and therefore, a potential reduction in fertility.
Some men take a second wife when the first wife has reached or is near menopause. If the age difference between co-wives is wide, the effect of polygyny on fertility could be minimal.
On the other hand status among pre- menopausal co-wives may reflect the number of children they give birth to. Marriage instability may suggest some enjoyment of some freedoms such as the right of sexual association, a greater claim to any children born in or out of wedlock, greater control over the woman’s own labour and income, all of which might translate into the kind of empowerment which has been associated with lower child mortality.
However, women are still vulnerable in the society if they are already poor and unskilled. Without a dependable husband/father, the loyalty of the guardian in matrilineal cultures to a female ward and her children cannot always be assured. The effect of marital instability on fertility is ambivalent for now.
GENDER PERSPECTIVES -Gender is not only an all-embracing social, economic and political issue, but also a central issue in culture and society. It serves as a basis for categorization and allocation of social roles and rights, duties and entitlements.
Women are socially and culturally disadvantaged purely on account of their biological sex and not enjoy enhanced status except as mothers and in external relations a male guardian represents them.
A man in a patrilineal society acquires possession rights to a wife. A female may not own land but depends on a man for access to land and even some types of property. She may have rights to self-acquired property but absolute right may remain vested in her husband or legal guardian.
In some communities, it is not unusual for a just-divorced woman to be prevented from taking away personal possessions such as clothing. She cannot openly contradict her legal guardian and he or her husband is perceived to have a right to discipline (even beat) her if she is seen as recalcitrant.
An Akan proverb states that, “If a woman becomes wealthy, she changes into a man”. That is to say, since women cannot hold valuable property, the woman who comes by such, must undergo a gender transformation so as not to violate societal expectations.
The same is true for women who become powerful: they may begin to assimilate male attributes, including the right to be “husband” to another woman. The nature and degree of a woman’s social and economic handicap may vary from society to society.
In matrilineal societies, she may enjoy considerable rights to property and autonomy and may emerge as a household head.
In patrilineal societies, on the other hand, it often anathema for a woman to be de jure household head although she could be the de facto head if she proves the means for its maintenance.
Yet, she still has to be anchored by her son or brother who is seen (socially and even legally) as the head of that household.
Highlights of the State of Ghana Population Report.
Source: Daily Graphic 4 February 2006. Page 11.