How women suffer from polygamy in Africa

“While that is considered persecution in the West, the majority there think the concept is acceptable.” This is what one of Spiegel’s authors wrote about polygamy in Senegal – though, without providing a survey or similar evidence. It sounds like satire when the magazine talks about a Senegalese woman who claims to have “studied gender studies and sociology”: “A polygamous home gives me freedoms I wouldn’t have otherwise. Here in Senegal, as a wife, you are always expected to be there for your husband, And above that, she takes care of his family. That is the way tradition wants. But I also want to have time for myself, to pursue my own interests, to be independent.” So polygamy is “the best option, because in this way I can share the burden with other women.”

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Cameroonian writer Djali Amadou Amal (b. 1975), who has achieved international achievement as a writer with her third novel, Munjal / Les Impatientes (The Impatient Women, Orlando, 2022), offers a less fatalistic and benevolent perspective. The book, which deals with the suffering of three women in Maroua in northern Cameroon, reminds us of the classic story of the Senegalese Mariama Ba (1929-1981) “A Brief Ayn Solange” (German 1998, Ulstein TB) about how she, as a modern African, became a victim of traditional Islamic polygamy. (On the first page of the novel, writer Amal writes: “This story is a fictional story based on true events.) Like Mariama Ba, Djaile Amado also handles many autobiographical elements. Like her first heroine, Ramla, her uncles forced her to marry a man in the 1950s. from the age of 17. It is common in rural societies to address girls and marry very young, and have a mate. The men in their families force them to obey the women, often condemned to suffer silently at the hands of violent and tyrannical men. In polygamy They have to compete with other wives, and bid farewell to their father Ramla and her sister Hindu: “From now on you are to your own husbands, they are worthy of absolute submission, God willing. You must not leave the house without your husband’s permission, not even come to his deathbed! Only in this way and on this condition will you be good wives! … (Ramla becomes a politician’s second wife. Her despair – she loves her fiancé – has been ignored by her parents. She eventually manages to escape. Her Hindu sister has to marry a cruel cousin. She is repeatedly raped by him).

We are neither the first nor the last girl my father and uncles will marry. On the contrary: they are more or less happy with the smooth running of their homework. They’ve been waiting since we were kids for the moment when they could finally let go of their responsibilities and hand them over to another man as virgins. (pages 16-18)

“We are a big family. My father guides them with a firm hand. Four wives bore him about thirty children, the eldest, mostly girls, is married.” (p. 23)

Both girls are unhappy in their marriage. However, the family guards that as a wife she owes their husbands “submission and respect”. It’s always about emotional blackmail for the family.

Hindu: “Everyone knows that Mubarak hits me and thinks it’s normal. It’s normal for a man to scold, scold or kick his wives out. Neither my father nor my uncles is an exception. They all had to beat one of their wives.” (p. 90)

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She finally escapes her violent husband and finds protection with a kind woman. However, she was tracked down by the family and brought to her father: “You’re a whore! Tell me at once who you’re with! … The whip strap rips my butter and cuts my skin. Blessed and my uncles watch the whipping with a straight face.” (page 100) At last she was declared insane and bound.

The ambassador is bitter that her husband is marrying Ramla to another wife. Ramla is younger than their first daughter. “When he expressed his desire to have a new wife after twenty years of marriage, it was a unilateral decision that he said had nothing to do with me. He simply took the oath and refused any discussion.” (p. 122)

The theme of the three characters in the novel revolves around forced marriage, polygamy, and domestic violence. Women are expected to show lasting devotion and sacrifice for the sake of the family. Mothers know what happens to their daughters, but they stick to tradition.

Djaili Amadou Amal, who like her literary characters grew up in Maroua in northern Cameroon in a large community of kin in the Fulani tradition, was married as the obedient 17-year-old daughter of an older politician. That’s when I started writing memoirs. After five years I managed to leave this guy. You no longer want to submit without complaint.
However, she entered into a second unhappy marriage with a polygamous man, from whom two daughters came. The husband was violent without hesitation, but she could break free from marriage only after 10 years. Amal has said in interviews that she has not co-authored an autobiography with the writers, but the protagonist, Ramla, is very similar to her. The nucleus of the novel was a text in mother Voll’s language: “A father’s advice to his daughters.” In the novel, the text that is hard for us to bear is copied on pages 14 and 15.

As Ayan Hirsi Ali (I’m a Bedouin, Piper 2012) wrote about the enslavement of women in Islam:
“When women refuse to submit to a man, they harm his goodwill, his authority, and the impression that he is loyal, strong, and dependable. This habit stems from the intrinsic belief that the individual does not matter. Individual choices and desires are irrelevant, especially when it comes to women. The idea of ​​honor and male claims to power Significantly limit women’s options for employment…”

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After leaving her second husband, she made her first attempts to write in the capital, Yaounde, 1,200 kilometers away. Her first novel, Children of 2010, is also about polygamy, forced marriage and violence. But it was only with her third novel, Die impatient Frauen, in 2017. She won the important French literary prize Prix Goncourt des lycéens, awarded by the Youth Jury.

Amal founded the Women of the Coast (Women of the Coast), which works for women’s rights and education.

She gave the book to her third husband, the writer Hamadou Baba, and their two children. The family now lives in the Cameroonian port of Douala (1600 km from the family). Amal is now considered one of Cameroon’s most important writers.

The film “Impatient Women” is divided into three parts. Each woman describes her fate (forced marriage, frequent corporal punishment and polygamy) in such a way that you would hardly want to leave the book aside. You can tell that the writer has handled a lot of autobiographical material and you can feel her sympathy for oppressed women. She knows what she is talking about and not only repeats the prevailing cliches, but has a deep knowledge of herself. The book is a successful piece of enlightenment about the taboo of child marriage and the degrading image of women in northern Cameroon. With books like these, Orlando Verlag has been able to rebel against the injustices prevailing in the Sahel – and this requires courage and civic courage not only from the author. The text is painful, but perhaps it helps break through the wide wall of denial of grievances (unfortunately sometimes in Europe too). We wouldn’t go any further with concealment and understatement.

From 1965 to 2008, Volker Seitz held various positions in the German Foreign Ministry, most recently as ambassador to Cameroon, Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea with headquarters in Yaounde. He belongs to the Bonn Appeal Initiative for Development Aid Reform and is the author of the best-selling book “Africa With Arms”. An updated and expanded eleventh edition was published on March 18, 2021. Volker Seitz regularly publishes on African topics and gives lectures.

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