5.4  Polygamy

Young woman with older co-wives and her husband
Figure 5.6  A young woman with older co-wives and her husband.

Polygamy is a common practice in Ethiopia. It is a form of marriage in which a person marries more than one spouse. Polygyny (from Greek words: poly = many; gyny = woman) refers to a polygamy in which a man has two or more wives. About 12% of married women in Ethiopia are in polygynous unions (see Figure 5.6). It is usual for a young girl to be married to an older married man.

Who do you think should choose the husband for a young girl: the girl or her parents?

In most rural parts of Ethiopia, girls have no power to choose their husbands. It is usually their parents, particularly their father, who decides who they will marry and the marriage is usually arranged by the parents. It is the legal right of Ethiopian women to choose whom to marry and when to do it. However, their right is not respected and is almost always violated (usually by their parents).

  • What bad consequences can polygamy have on the sexual and reproductive life of young women?

  • Polygamy has multiple impacts on the reproductive health and overall life of young women, as you have just learned. It is usually a young woman who is given to a married man. That means the second or third wife is usually younger than the first wife. The young woman usually has less access to resources, little autonomy and no input into family decision making. This exposes her to many health problems including malnutrition of herself and her children. As her husband has multiple sexual partners (i.e. more than one wife), she may be at risk of STIs, including HIV, and then developing AIDS.

5.3  Marriage by abduction

5.5  Intervention strategies to minimise and eliminate HTPs