In Gambia polygamy is a widely accepted (if not a widely debated)
practice. Islamic tradition allows a man to marry up to four wives.
They are usually referred to as co-wives. The highest status wife
is the first wife.
Usually a manís first wife will be a woman about his same age,
but other wives who are married over the years tend to be much
younger and in some cases wives can be over half their age. Partly
due to the fact that older men marry the available younger women,
men tend to marry at an older average age (29) than women, who
marry at an average age of 19. Polygamy is losing popularity among
the younger generation of men who see first-hand the economic
ramifications of supporting a large family on a limited income.
Many of this current Gambian generation prefers to have just one
However, polygamy is only allowed by Islam if he can support the
extra partner otherwise it is forbidden. This rule has not stopped
many Gambians of the older generation marrying more than one wife
knowing full well they will run into difficulties. The reason
for this is because multiple marriages are seen as a status symbol