Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Perspective on Heterosexual Polygamy From Swaziland

Zakhele Dawson writes at the Times of Swaziland about polygamy, tying it in to recent local events...

If there’s one thing that can be said about Minister Hlobisile Ndlovu, it is that she is fearless in her opinions. Only days after being plastered all over the news after an altercation with her husband at OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg, she stood up in Parliament to declare that she preferred polygamous marriages to monogamous ones.
How many times have we heard that polygyny is not something any women choose?
Personally I do not see it as a question of morality but one of practicality. After all, what most western societies have forgotten is that they, too, were mostly polygamous once, in various ways. In fact, monogamy is officially practiced by a minority of cultures, although that minority includes the majority of the human population.
Interesting way of looking at it.
But polygamy, whether it is a family unit composed of one man and several wives (polygyny) or one woman and several husbands (polyandry – I just want to put on record how much I love Google), exists in societies for defined, practical reasons. I have lived in several countries around the world, both developed and undeveloped, and my observation is that polygamy is most often practiced in resource-scarce societies. It’s a way of sharing resources and responsibilities more effectively.
I suppose that depends on how one defines polygamy. Official, legally recognized marriages, perhaps. But open marriages, swinging, and polygamory are certainly found where wealth abounds, and there is polygyny among the wealthy in Arabia, no?
However, in countries where there is a large gap between the rich and the poor (in both monogamous and polygamous societies), the rich tend to operate polygamously, even if it is outside social sanction. 
Other people have noticed that, too.

The musings go into trust and jealousy. It is interesting, though I think the focus is limited and stereotypical, completely ignoring same-gender attraction and relationships and chalking up polygamy to accommodating temptation and baby making. There are people on polyamorous relationships for many reasons. Most of those relationships were not formed due to a lack of self-control.

I do see that polymorous and polygamous relationships can reduce the consumption footprint of the people involved, such as with sharing one home instead of several, and that can be beneficial for everyone.

Gender and sexual orientation equality under the law is essential. Building on those, the polygamous freedom to marry should be available to every adult, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. It is an important factor in full marriage equality.
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