Northern Uganda Leads in Polygamy
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New Vision (Kampala)
August 20, 2002
Posted to the web August 20, 2002
About one third of the married women in Uganda are in polygamous marriages, according to the 2001 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey report which was released this year. And, the report indicates that polygamy is increasing.
As part of a broader countrywide survey married women were asked whether they had co-wives, and 32.2% said yes, 66.3% said no, while 0.5% said they did not know. This represents a slight increase from 1995, when a similar survey found that 30.0% of the married women were in polygamous marriages.
The demographic survey found out that of the women in polygamous marriages, two thirds have only one co-wife while one third had two or more. Polygamy was slightly more common in towns than in villages. Also, educated women were slightly less likely to engage in polygamy, compared to women who have never been to school.
However, women with secondary or tertiary education were just as likely as their counterparts who stopped in primary school, to be in polygamy.
All together 31.5% of women with secondary or tertiary education were in polygamous marriages. The figure for those with primary education was 32.0% and for those who had no education at all, 34.8%.
Polygamy was most common in northern Uganda, followed by the central, eastern and western parts of the country. The difference among the regions was narrow except western Uganda, which had a clearly lower prevalence of polygamy. At a closer look, polygamous marriages involving three or more women were more common in central Uganda than in other regions.
The report states that polygamy increases with age. In the 15 to 19 age group, 79% of the married women did not share husbands. But this declined to 60% in the 45 to 49 age group.
The 1995 report revealed that polygamy was more common among educated men while the reverse was true for women. However, the 2001 report did not present the distribution of polygamy among men.
The state minister for gender, Sam Bitangaro, is totally surprised. With increased awareness about AIDS and the campaign for smaller families, he would expect polygamy to reduce. He discourages men from marrying more than one wife. "I would like to think that over the years the level of education and enlightenment has gone up, so the level of polygamy should proportionally come down," he says. Reverand Jackson Turyagenda of the Church of Uganda, says sex has been de-mystified and many people do not feel guilty to take on more than one sexual partner. He says people have become relaxed on the Church family life education. "Some of these things happen accidentally. Somebody picks up a girl and eventually she becomes part of his life," he adds.
Turyagenda also says as the economy improves, more men become polygamous because they can afford to sustain more than one wife. "Maybe we are not charging bride price so it becomes cheap to marry," he adds.
But Dr. Edward Kirumira, head of the department of sociology, Makerere University, says it is more to do with social insecurity.
He says that because Uganda does not have a good social security system, many women look for social support in marriage, even if it means becoming a second wife or getting trapped in a polygamous marriage as a first wife.
"It doesn't really surprise me that polygamy is increasing," he says. "In a way women are looking at that as a way of possible social support in a situation where there seems to be no alternative."
Lydia Wanyoto Mutende, a member the East African parliament, says because women are more than men yet society puts them under pressure to marry, she is not surprised that polygamy is increasing. She says society does not respect unmarried women.
But she adds that the figure might be higher this time simply because women are becoming more open and are more prepared to declare that they are in polygamous marriages.
She says despite what religious leaders say, polygamy is a reality and "the faster we accept it the better." She says with laws like the Domestic Relations Bill and the Land Act, women in polygamous marriages who do not come out in the open might be left behind. For instance, she says, a second wife who has children should be entitled to the husband's property.
But she says this might not be possible if they do not come out in the open right from the time of debating laws.
Whatever side of the argument one takes, it remains a fact that no woman likes to share a husband with another. Just like no man would want to share a wife.