Women choosing not to marry: Motherhood vs wifehood
In traditional patrilineal societies, marriage is the link between procreation and kinship. It is through marriage that children born of mothers are brought into fathers’ lineages. Until recently in many African societies marriage has been a precondition for adulthood. Compare here the discussions in Becker’s chapter of efundula, the initiation ritual which is seen as a synonym for marriage, as well as the discussion of same-sex relations, where it was found that social codes in many African societies have been permissive regarding same-sex relations or desires, as long as these did not overshadow or supplant marriage and procreation. Whatever sexual relations men and women practised or preferred, they would always also be married.
This pattern is now changing, a change in which women are the agents. Helle – Valle shows from Botswana, and Haram from Tanzania, how women increasingly have been able to take the initiative and to negotiate extra-marital sexual relationships on terms, which are at least partially set by themselves. Young women in Botswana may decide not to marry, or to postpone marriage plans, in order to remain for a longer time in the more independent (but also risky) position of an extra-marital girlfriend, or an informal second wife. The socio-economic basis for this strategy is a norm of informal sexual relationships involving a transfer of economically significant gifts from the man to the women. Unlike norms in Chris- tian/Western contexts, where “romantic love and/or personal pleasure […] are the ‘proper’ motives for engaging in sex, while strategic, materially oriented uses of sexuality are strictly tabooed” (Helle-Valle, this volume), sexual mores in Botswana and other parts of Africa include as a matter of course notions of reciprocity and acknowledgement of sex by gifts of money (cf. also Helle-Valle 1999, Helle-Valle and Talle 2000)
Similarly, modern women in semi-urban northern Tanzania are increasingly choosing not to marry, thus opting out of kinship based traditional control and circumscription. Yet, “in their pursuit for self-fulfilment and economic independence, they become dependent on another type of attachment to men” (Haram, this volume). In spite of ‘modern’ romantic ideals of partnership and intimacy, and in spite of the women’s own dreams of one day meeting ‘the right one’, they tend to choose well-settled, generous, married men, so-called ‘sugar daddies’, rather than young and penniless ones, referring to their male partners as their ‘project’, ‘business’ or ‘donor’. In this way the women manage to “maintain some
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