A Qualitative Study of Women in Polygynous Marriages

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International Nursing Review




Purpose:  Polygyny, the practice of taking more than one wife at the same time is a common practice in several countries including Africa. This study, conducted in Ghana, West Africa, investigated married women's experiences in polygyny and their ways of coping.

Methods:  Using exploratory qualitative methodology, data were collected from 15 married women who consented to in-depth interviews. The study was conducted in the summer of 2005 with approval from an institutional review board and permission from community leaders from the study site.

Findings:  Three themes emerged from the study: infertility, co-wives' relationships and ways of coping. The findings indicated that infertility was the number one reason that women allowed for co-wives in their marriages because this was necessary to protect the marriage rather than divorce. Unhappiness, loneliness, sense of competition and jealousy, and lack of intimacy with the spouse were identified as disadvantages of polygyny. The perceived advantages of polygyny included sharing of house chores and child rearing. The women's ways of coping included the use of religion, faith and a strong sisterly bond formed with the co-wives. Though the majority of the women disapproved of polygyny unions, divorce was not an option.

Conclusion:  These findings have implications for nursing and policy-makers. Nurses can provide education and implement programmes that teach coping mechanisms and stress management. Policy-makers should be made aware of the implications of polygynous marriages on women's health and well-being. There is the need to conduct more research to investigate the effects of polygyny on women's mental health and the need to develop programmes to support women.