A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Monogamy For Two, Please
By Claudia Akyeampong
I grew up hearing lectures of an African woman’s purpose in life from my mother, aunts, and other African women in the community, who felt the need to curb my wayward thinking. According to them as African women, it was our mission to obtain a husband, raise a family and take care of home. Even now, I have relatives that ask my age and follow-up with, are you married? After I unhinge my teeth from my tongue I answer no and receive, without fail, the downcast eyes filled with pity. My single pride has no place amongst the traditional mindsets of my family.
I believe these values are what many African women were raised to adhere to. Well times are a-changing, as are the ideals of the modern African woman. We are more sexually and financially independent and the evolution of our culture is opening up new windows and paths in how we see our place in society. Marriage is becoming a choice on the timescale of the African woman’s lifeline, instead of a check on the list of things to do.
I had a discussion with a Rastafarian man who divulged his desire to get married. He told me he was no longer dating African-American women, and that his next relationship would be with a woman “from the continent.” Now, although I wear my Ghanian flag incessantly with pride, I was born and raised in the States. So, where he came up with the idea that I would be his ideal wife…I’m not sure. Anyway, I was intrigued by his statement and asked him why he felt that way and he stated that African-American women had their ideals all messed up. He wanted a traditional African woman with traditional African values and one that would embrace the polyamorous households of our ancestors. What puzzled me more than his misinformed rant, was the fact that he assumed that an African woman of today would automatically cater to his ideals without having any of her own to stand on. More so, why is it still up to the woman to be monogamous?
The influence of western culture in Africa cannot be denied. With the influx of industry and the fact that women are becoming more financially independent, the commodity of a husband is becoming less of a necessity. Even though many women grew up with the notion that marriage=security, with the ever rising divorce rates, we can conclude this is not always true. African women are becoming comfortable doing for themselves and taking control of their sexuality.
To be sexually independent and smart about that freedom is necessary for women. Because the fact is, African women make up the largest group infected with HIV and AIDS. Yet, monogamy only works if it is a two way street and in most instances in traditional Africa, it is the woman who is held to this duty to be faithful. While these women continue to follow these conventions, they are still dying in numbers. In many instances the traditional African man doesn’t feel the same obligation to be faithful and the women are still stuck in the roles they feel they were meant to uphold.
In a 2006, interview on NPR, Dr. Helene Gayle, president of CARE USA, responds to reporter Farai Chideya, about the ways in which she hopes to prevent HIV among African women
"...many women themselves may be monogamous, but it is their partner who has multiple partners that puts them at risk. Often times, she cannot get her partner to use a condom, nor is it possible to abstain when she's forced into sexual relations. But I think we - again, it's important to take a much more holistic view, accept the fact that women are oftentimes not in control of the factors, and that we get realistic about what we need to do to both empower women, but also to change the way that men view their relationship to women.”
It is our right and our responsibility as women to take care of our bodies. The fate of our health should not be left in someone else’s hands due to cultural obligation. It continues to be proven that HIV and AIDS are not culturally selective diseases. The respect in which we want for our bodies will only be acknowledged when we own our actions and demand dual accountability in our relationships. This should be the case whether we are single, in committed relationships, or married. In being proactive about it, we are making a statement as progressive African women while also being living legacies to the traditions which we come from. ~Sankofa