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Mi aigris long koins bilong em’ (‘I was attracted to him because of his money’): Polygamy, sexual agency and women in contemporary Papua New Guinea

Mi aigris long koins bilong em’ (‘I was attracted to him because of his money’): Polygamy, sexual agency and women in contemporary Papua New Guinea

Background: Papua New Guinea (PNG) is undergoing enormous economic transition giving rise to increased wealth, rapid social change and transforming cultural practices. In recent years the practice of polygamy in PNG has come under increasing domestic attention, especially as it pertains to reinforcing patriarchy and exacerbating gender inequality. In this paper we examine contemporary polygamy practices and what role sexual agency plays in women and girls quest for older married men.

Methods: A mixed method qualitative study on masculinity was undertaken in two Highlands Provinces of PNG. A total of 33 in-depth interviews and 10 focus group discussions were conducted with women and girls of all ages using convenient sampling. All interviews were digitally recorded, transcribed and translated into English before being analyzed using NVivo 9.

Findings: The majority of women and girls in the study discussed polygamy both as it has been historically practiced and more recent transformations to it. Historically polygamy served to reinforce the status of men and only available to a select few men. With increased access to cash economies and increased female sexual agency, women and girls now actively seek out men with disposable income and other assets. There has been an inverse of social status as women and girls come to posses wealth as co-wives. Despite the evidence of female sexual agency, participants were of the opinion that transformation and expansion of polygamy resulted in increased HIV risk.

Conclusion: Before being forced into polygamous marriage, contemporary PNG women and girls actively seek out married men to marry, hoping to benefit economically. What sexual health risks this poses for HIV remains unknown but understanding these socio-cultural features in PNG today are important to informing the future of women’s sexual health.

Speakers: Agnes Mek
Conference: ASHM 2013

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