Polyandry: So, Girls When Are We Moving to South Africa?

Two husbands may be in our future…

On May 12, 2021, the South African parliament debated the Green Paper on Marriage Act that would allow women to practice polyandry, in other words, to have multiple husbands, The proponents of the proposal: a consortium of LGBTQ, religious, and gender-nonconforming communities contended that polygamy (which is legal in SA) adheres to the heteronormative structures of patriarchal marital systems, while a woman’s right to multiple spouses is not regarded as a “normal” marital system. The advocates argue that a woman’s right to have multiple partners falls within the principle of equality for marriages. The Green Paper would codify all marriages that are currently not seen as legal under one Marriage Act.

South Africa’s proposal has garnered a great deal of discussion in their local media and has elicited vitriolic responses from men of different demographics. Lay preachers, politicians, and polygamists have asserted that normalizing polyandry will lead to the destruction of the traditional family structure. Others predict that it will increase violent crime as men fight over access to their wives, while others center their opposition in religious dogma. My sister shared a video of an anchor on South African television empathetically proclaiming his disgust of polyandry and vowing it would be legalized only over his dead body. Coincidentally, what the national discussion on polyandry has done is to unearth the rash of illegal marriages occurring in South Africa. A local representative of Save The Children, reported that every seven seconds a girl under the age of 15 is [illegally] married, totaling a daily average of 20,000 children.

If I could have two husbands concurrently, would I do it? Would I want my spouses to have specific roles and responsibilities? Would I allow them to have equal access to my body and my time? Would I have to do double household tasks? I shared the article and video with my WhatsApp community and began a discussion on what would be the reality of middle-aged women having multiple spouses. Of course, the hackneyed “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” was contributed by the majority of men. But one wonders if a husband were faced with his partner wanting another man if his comment would be that trite?

Some women have always had sexual, emotional, and financial arrangements with more than one man at a time and have never felt the need to bat an eye. A 56-year-old friend confessed that in a manner of speaking, she had always had two husbands, although the men were never formally introduced. She realized that had they known about each other, it would’ve certainly led to “complications”. A divorcee said while she had been married, she always had “a spare” [lover] that she saw intermittently. A schoolmate who lives in New York with her husband admitted to having “a good friend” from our school days that she “chills” with whenever she returns to the Caribbean for her summer or Christmas vacation. And as a retired journalist texted quite stoically, “a vagina isn’t cheese”. She contends that unlike cheese when a woman has intercourse with multiple partners there is no discernible loss.

Advocates of polyandry in South Africa are hoping that by March 31, 2024, the Marriage Bill will be approved by their parliament and will become law. In reality, I believe that the notion of multiple husbands will never be realized. With the exception of Gulf countries like Oman and Qatar; and some parts of China and India where men outnumber women 3:1, there are still more females in the world than males, skewing the odds toward polygyny (multiple wives). In the East or the West, as men age, they gravitate to relationships with younger women even if only to be Sugar Daddies. If I had stayed married to a man whose male ancestors were polygamists, it is more than likely, I would’ve had to face the prospect of my husband having a second wife in Africa. That would’ve been unacceptable to me and we would’ve eventually divorced. Only this week, I heard about a friend who after several decades of marriage, divorced her husband and the father of her four children when she found out he had married a younger woman while on a trip to Africa.

Unlike polygyny which is widely practiced, there are just a few places in the world where polyandry still exists as a marital system. There are different forms of polyandry, but fraternal polyandry is most common. It is practiced among the Maasai of Kenya, the Irigwe of Nigeria, the Bororo of Brazil, in Nepal, India, and Tibet. In agrarian societies where land or resources are scarce and adult males are unable to receive an individual inheritance; a woman often marries two brothers. This marital structure allows the homestead to have enough laborers to eke out a living rather than having separate holdings. One man might be responsible for the crops, while the other brother’s domain could be tending animals. If one man travels or becomes ill, there is always someone available to work and take care of the family unit. The woman’s offspring eventually inherits the land and there is no need for the estate to be divided.

When I think about polyandry, why shouldn’t a woman have the option to have a co- husband, if her initial husband is unable to cut the proverbial mustard? Couldn’t one partner be for emotional support, family outings, and shared history; while the other could be reserved expressly for all things carnal? If despite the constant consumption of pineapple chunks, the husband of one’s youth remains averse to cunnilingus, wouldn’t it be great to have a co-husband devoid of that phobia? Having said all that, I must admit that although I’m relatively attractive and active, I am 60. And as the men in Barbados wickedly say, I’ve “been off the calendar” for 30 years. In observing my male contemporaries in the Diaspora, from whom I would select my two husbands, the pickings appear rather slim. Many are under the delusion that they can still bag women the same age as their daughters, so older women are rendered invisible. Others have sedentary lifestyles and are obese, with maladies ranging from diabetes, hypertension, to erectile dysfunction. Even worse, many don’t own a passport. And to make matters worse, with all these comorbidities, Covid-19 has significantly reduced the pool of men in the USA and the Diaspora.

With the alignment of my middle age, and my main objective of giving no more f@#ks, I’ve begun my odyssey abroad searching for places to take quiet naps, to eat good food, and to breathe. Gradually, I’m jettisoning my fears and I’m embracing the fact that good health, loving relationships, and time are finite. I am aware that at my age, I’m lucky if I gain the attention of half a man, furthermore two. And although the idea of having multiple partners is deliciously provocative on many levels, living alone does have some tangible benefits, too. So, I must admit, I won’t be moving to South Africa…any time soon.

A writer who wants to explore all aspects of being an older Black woman in the African Diaspora.