A new research has elicited mixed reactions online, a finding which is encouraging women to share husbands for a better life and health.
According to the research, children in polygamous households either do better or just as well as children in monogamous households within the same village.
First wives, who tend to live with their husbands, had significantly better nutrition and less stunting among their children than monogamous families.
The children of later wives, who usually live in separate homes adjacent to the first wife, were as healthy as monogamous families, although their food security was slightly lower.
“It’s an important finding because we have this very strong language used by the United Nations and others that polygyny is universally harmful.
“Most of the policy speak on this topic is not actually very evidence based… What we are arguing for is cultural sensitivity.” said the lead researcher, David Lawson of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Polygyny refers to marriage systems where men can have multiple wives, while polygamy means marrying more than one wife or husband at the same time.
The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women says polygamous marriages should be discouraged and outlawed because they are unequal and have negative emotional and financial impacts on women and children.
“Of course we want to improve the status of women,” Lawson said. “But if you just change marriage laws without addressing the underlying position of women within society, you may restrict their options, so it could be detrimental.”
“Polygyny can be potentially protective within cultural settings where women lack direct control over resources,” said Lawson.
For example, under the custom of widow inheritance, women whose husbands die are re-married to the brother of the deceased, often as a second or later wife.
He is expected to provide for the widow who loses her marital home when her husband dies because women traditionally cannot inherit land.
“In contexts where women are unable to own resources, it can be within their strategic interests, within those confines, to share a husband,” said Lawson.
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