Women with infertility complying with and resisting polygyny: an explorative qualitative study in urban Gambia

Susan Dierickx, Gily Coene, Bintou Jarju, Chia Longman

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BACKGROUND: In many low-and middle-income countries women with infertility are often in polygynous marriages. From a human and women's rights perspective, the practice of polygyny is commonly understood as harmful. Studies indicate that polygyny aggravates negative life circumstances of women with infertility with respect to their health and social well-being. The purpose of this qualitative study is to explore how women with infertility experience polygyny and to understand their decision-making regarding these marriages.

METHODS: An explorative qualitative study was conducted among women with infertility in the urban communities of the West Coast region of The Gambia using in-depth interviews (30). Data analysis involved an emergent and partially inductive thematic framework and was carried out using NVivo 11.

RESULTS: With the exception of some women with infertility who described positive experiences within polygynous marriages, most women emphasised conflicts that exist within polygynous households and reported financial and emotional difficulties. Thematic analysis identified several strategies of women with infertility to cope with and resist polygynous marriages, including overcoming childlessness, addressing conflict, spending time outside the compound, looking for social support, kanyaleng kafoolu, living separately and initiating divorce. Moreover, the experiences and decision-making power of women with infertility when it comes to polygynous marriages was found to be closely related to their socio-demographic background.

CONCLUSION: This work highlights how women with infertility in polygynous marriages are in a precarious situation in urban Gambia. Women utilize a mix of compliance, coping and resistance strategies to navigate the challenges of polygynous marriages in a structurally constraining context.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103
JournalReproductive Health
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Extramarital Relations/ethics
  • Family Relations
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Female/psychology
  • Marriage/psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Qualitative Research
  • Sexual Partners/psychology
  • Young Adult


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