Cultural Value Systems Vis-à-vis the “West” and Sub-Saharan Africa: Family Ties, Marriage, Polygamy, Fertility and the Role of Women
Cultural Value Systems Vis-à-vis the “West” and Sub-Saharan Africa:
Family Ties, Marriage, Polygamy, Fertility and the Role of Women
Sub-Saharan Africa is a region that is diversely significant in the world of geography. Understanding the cultural geography of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is, thus, fundamental to understanding the geography of the region, which include its political situation, its medical geography, its population dilemma, and the current development crisis (Aryeeteh-Attoh et al, 2003). We cannot fully discuss the cultural value systems, which include the family organizational patterns, the institution of marriage and fertility as well as the role of women without briefly discussing the effects of colonialism and western influences in the region. This paper seeks to address the similarities and differences between cultural value systems in SSA and those of the West precisely Europe and North America. The paper shall also compare and contrast cultures in the West and SSA in relations to family ties, marriage and polygamy.
The colonization of countries in SSA helped in the process of shaping the regional political, social, cultural, educational, economic, religious and environmental landscapes. The colonization period disintegrated the social, cultural, political, religious and educational landscape of the region shaping it to what we have today. Poverty, diseases, hunger, ethnic tensions and political upheavals are widespread throughout SSA, partly because of the negative influences and ideologies that Western powers instituted in the region before the decolonization or post-colonial period begun. This ideology were rooted in extreme hatred, evil and the perception of the “civilizing mission” of the West against those they claimed to be barbarians and salvages, which is hugely the fundamental cause of Africa’s problems today. Now, let us compare and contrast cultural value systems in SSA to that of the West (Europe and North America).
Studying the cultures of SSA is not only limited to the geographic landscape of the region in which people interact, but it is also “studying the culture of a group of people which involves evaluating their way of life, how they live, what clothes they wear, what food they eat, their customary habits, belief systems, speech patterns, and value systems” (Aryeeteh-Attoh et al, 2003). The family is an important aspect of the culture in most African countries. In SSA, people practice the extended family system in which the family is composed of the father, mother, children plus other relatives. Unlike in western countries, family ties are limited to the nuclear family system in which the immediate family is center around the father, mother and children. There are social reasons why family ties in each of these regions vary. The culture, economy, education, and social value systems of these regions play an important role in shaping how their family is composed. For example, in the United States and in most West European nations where the nuclear family system is widely practice are more developed economically. As a result, people tend to have smaller families as possible. Generally, children in more developed or industrialized nations are considered as liabilities as oppose to SSA where children are consider assets. Even though some Christian denominations do promote polygamy in the United States and elsewhere in Europe (Mormonism), monogamy is widely practiced. Europeans and North Americans tend to have fewer children (2.5 TFR) than those in Sub-Saharan Africa where the Total Fertility Rate is higher is five or above (TFR 5+). However, this varies from country to country and from region to region, which is highly rooted in cultures, belief systems, and the national and local economy.
Notwithstanding, in some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, having more children is a symbolic representation of wealth, power and socioeconomic status. Children assist their parents with farm work and get involved in activities that bring about wealth. Children in SSA serves as the labor force in the means of production; whereas, in the US and Europe children are widely considered liability to their parents and the economy until they turn eighteen years old when they can legally live by themselves (18 yrs).
In Africa, children tend to take care of their parents when they are older, because that is what their culture requires of them; whereas, in the United States and some Europe countries there is a separation between parents and children. Parents in their old ages tend to rely on the government’s social service programs such as their Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to replace the protection and care they should have gotten from their children. This can lead to wider gaps in family cohesiveness and love. In Africa, people feel cooperative and together because they always see each other. In the West precisely the United States and other European countries, people are more individualistic and competitive and this account for the high rate of suicide cases and violent crimes, such as domestic abuses.
Education is also a factor that account for both the role of women in the family as well as at the national levels. Over the past fifty-nine years (59), when most countries in SSA became independent the role of women were limited to household work, farming, gathering firewood, fetching water as well as preparing food for the family. Women were not encouraged to seek education as the men were. As a result, the illiteracy rate amongst women and girls became higher. On the other hand, in the United States and European countries women sought education just as men did and became to work on jobs that men did. The roles of women were not limited to parenting as in the case of women in Africa. This was highly due to their culture, government policies, and active civil rights organizations that protested for gender equality, social justice and social change. Today, Africa and precisely Sub-Saharan Africa is also undergoing drastic transformation on the issue of women role on local, national and global matters.
To conclude, countries in SSA are doing their best in transitioning from an agrarian economic system to an industrial system; however, this is going to take centuries for most countries in the region to attain. In order to attain progress, the development of international partnerships, effective government policies and programs to meet the needs of the common people as well as good governance, reduce corruption, widespread education and empowerment initiatives for women and girl and effective health care programs and policies are some of the ways to achieve these progress. The region will experience widespread geographic transformation in its total fertility rate and the role of women by building on the above mentioned structural, functional and operational frameworks.
Aryeeteh-Attoh, S. et al, (2003), “Geography of Sub-Saharan Africa.” 3rd Ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003.