Understanding the Role of Polygamy and Genital Mutilation in Traditional African Societies

Student Author(s)

Arnaud Muhimpundu

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Anne Larsen

Document Type


Event Date



For hundreds of women in traditional African society, polygamy and mutilation of genitals remains a large part of their everyday lives. In the “polygamy belt” stretching from Senegal to Tanzania, it is common for more than one third of married women to be in polygamous relationships (Jacoby, 1995). Polygamy has been cited as a possible contributor to Africa’s low savings rates (Tertilt, 2005), widespread incidence of HIV (Brahmbhatt et al., 2002), high levels of child mortality (Strassmann, 1997), and of female depression (Adewuya et al., 2007). Even more shocking, the World Health Organization estimates that there are about 140 million women and girls worldwide that have been victims of female genital mutilation. While this practice happens on every continent, in Africa about 101 million girls over the age of 10 have been cut, mostly in sub-Saharan African countries, according to different United Nations agencies. These shocking statistics illustrate the difficult life for so many women in these countries. In this paper, the films of Ousmane Sembene, the father of African cinema, and the writings of Guillaume Oyono Mbia will be analyzed to illustrate their efforts to educate regarding the effects of polygamy and the mutilation of genitals on young woman, and to criticize and eliminate these African traditions. Education through film and theater is very important in identifying and criticizing the harsh realities of traditional society.

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