Thursday, June 16, 2011

Polygamy - Good Economic Sense? Part II

Masai woman feeding her child while on her way
In almost every culture that practices polygyny (the practice of having more than one wife), good economic sense is the argument used to justify this form of union. The traditional explanation that carries into the 21 century is that a wealthy man can marry more than one wife because he is able to provide for all the wives and their children. He takes care of their food, shelter, clothing, assets, and education for the children. It is supposed to be a sign of prestige and honor for the man who then commands respect in the community.

This is evident in the case of the heads of state who are able to marry more than one wife.

In turn, there is a reciprocal economic advantage for the man. As he provides the necessary conditions for his family, they in turn provide the needed labor for his farms, cattle and businesses. His labor costs are at a minimum because the wives and children are the labor force.

Health vs Economic Sense:
Traditional sexual practices including polygyny in Africa have been identified as factors that have escalated the rampant spread of HIV/AIDS. Swaziland recently surpassed Botswana as the country with the world's highest known prevalence rate. Swaziland is a small country with a population of a little above one million people and yet 40% of the population suffers from the disease.

The African leaders, including King Mswati III, recognize that HIV/AIDS is an epidemic that is biting into their national budgets. Although there is this recognition, it has not stopped the national and community leaders from continuing the practice of polygyny.

In 2008, King Mswati III ordered that all young girls under the age of 18 should stop having sex for the  next five years to prevent the spread of AIDS. However, the King either forgot he had put up this sex ban or just ignored it for he went ahead and married a 16 year old teenager.

Education vs Economic Sense:
The economic argument for polygyny fails in the cases of Masai girls as young as 10 years old whose education is cut short in order to marry a man four to six times there age as the umpteenth wife. Low literacy levels of a country curtail its economic growth.

It would make more economic sense if girls were given the same opportunities to pursue their education to the highest levels. Their wealth of knowledge benefits communities and countries. This is a documented fact.

The economic argument for polygamy/polygyny made sense in the yester-years when economic wealth was measured at a community level and everyone made a living from the land. Today, the world is different. There many opportunities for women to build wealth and live well without having to depend  on some wealthy old man.

No comments:

Post a Comment