“I take you for my lawful wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.” Sounds familiar? Of course it does! Who wouldn’t recognize these magical words and what they represent. Marriage! the union of a life time! Hold on. Did you just read life time? Ok let’s start over. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the remix version of marriage featuring divorce.
First of all, marriage is a good thing. Individuals marry for several reasons, including legal, social, emotional, financial, spiritual, and religious purposes. Back then especially in Africa, marriages were usually arranged by parents or family members as a cultural practice e.g The Ukuthwala in South Africa (abducting young girls and forcing them into marriage, often with the consent of their parents). Though both individuals had not courted each other prior to the wedding, some of these arranged and sometimes forced marriages, tended to blossom and groom a great amount of love which enabled them to last a life time. The yesteryears marriage had this baseline principle: the woman stays at home, takes care of the children and manages the household meanwhile, the man works and provides for his family. Several years later, our perception of marriage has drastically changed as the world becomes more and more free spirited. The younger generation has long detached itself from the mundane believes and practices of their parents. They nurture the desire to determine their fate especially when it comes to finding their spouses.
Despite the freedom of choice, marriage is not the paradise on earth one would have assumed several years ago. Nowadays, the marriage institution is going through a crisis as the gender roles within relationships are radically changing, making them most ‘unsuited’ to the conservative definition of marriage. In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2013, in 40% of American households with children under 18, women were the primary income generator as opposed to only 11% in 1961. In 2011, six of ten married couples with children relied on dual incomes. The rise of women’s liberation movements and the sexual revolution have each played a major role in altering perceptions of gender roles within marriage. Also, the fast changing cultural norms have decreased the aversion to being single and increased the probability of cohabitation. In addition, a decrease in the stigma attached to divorce has significantly contributed to intensifying crisis and increasing the rates of divorce.
One might presume that these developments are peculiar to western cultures. You wish. Africa has not been spared of the problem of divorce. Even though most African cultures strongly advice against divorce, there have been an increase in divorce cases in Africa. It is a clear indication that the African cultural values that jealously guarded the institution of marriage have weakened significantly. According to Statistics South Africa, in 2014 the divorce rate in South Africa for example, stood at 61.2% from 34.5% reported in 2013. More wives (51,7%) than husbands (34,4%) initiated the divorce according to the data collected at the time. Most plaintiffs were professionals and semi-professionals: technical occupations 12,0%; managers and administrators 9,3%; and 9,2% in clerical and sales occupations. About 80,0% of divorces for men and women were from first-time marriages compared to 12,4% of men and 10,9% of women from second-time marriages. Around 2,0% of men and women were getting divorced for at least the third time.
Is the idea of marriage in Africa out of fashion or are we almost getting there?
Christel (Cameroon): Trust me we’re almost getting there, in just a few years. First off, you don’t need to marry anyone to prove how much you love that person. That idea is so old it hurts. You can always cohabit. The most important thing is the love and respect you have for each other. Both of you can build your lives and most importantly, the lives of your children based on this. Secondly, we thank the family members and friends for their support but sometimes the intrusion is excessive and destructive. This is one of the main reasons why many marriages in Africa fail. People should learn to mind their business. Simple!
Ade (Nigeria): Why should I stay married to someone who does not value and respect me? Many women suffer in marriage because they fear being stigmatized after leaving their marital homes. Some women have lost their lives. Divorce has offered an escape route from a life time of misery for such women. I am pro divorce if it is done for the right reasons. Looking at so many marriages today, I think marriage is out of fashion because there is no value attached to it anymore.
Faye (Senegal): Marriage is almost out of fashion. Marriage these days is very complicated, even in conservative Africa. Times are changing, people are changing and the women for instance, don’t want to stop there (marriage) anymore. They want more than just marriage. They want freedom, a career and other things which our former understanding of marriage will not tolerate. This explains why many African marriages are falling apart. In my opinion, most African marriages can’t handle the changes within the institution and they crumble under the pressure. By the way, I know of many young African couples who would prefer to cohabit and start a family under this status rather than take the relationship further. However, they are pressurized by their families to tie the knot. When you are forced to do something, there is a high chance it will not work out as planned.
Shola (Nigeria): Why do marriages fail? We young Africans cohabit a lot! By the time we get married both individuals are bored of each other. They are literally bored of seeing each other. There is nothing more to look forward to just like in the days of our parents. The chances of having serious problems or divorcing when you cohabit are much higher than couples that didn’t cohabit. It takes away the vibe. People see things on social media and want to imitate. Most people don’t marry for love but for money and status. Marriage today is a joke. A very bad joke for that matter. If there is a first divorce, there will be a second and a third. The problem is us and not with the institution of marriage. We should change our priorities and learn to view marriage as a serious, divine and legal commitment, just like it was before. Personally, I think marriage is out of fashion.
The institution of marriage in Africa is taking a new and very modern shape. “Why did I get married?” Maybe we should learn to ask this question before marriage rather than after marriage. It could play the magic trick.