Why Straight Women Are Marrying Each Other In Tanzania

"Nobody can touch us."

Homosexuality is strictly forbidden in the East African nation of Tanzania, but a record number of women are marrying each other there.

A same-sex couple explained the Kurya cultural tradition of “nyumba ntobhu” (or “house of women”) in a lenghthy interview in the August issue of Marie Claire, opening up about the hardships in their remote village that drive women who identify as straight to enter into same-sex relationships.

“Nobody knows when it started, but its main purpose is to enable widows to keep their property,” Kurya reporter Dinna Maningo told the magazine.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY EPHREM RUGIRIRIZA A picture taken on June 30, 2010 shows Weregesa Moita, 85, (R) seated in her compound with wife, Monicca Moita, 23 (unseen) at a village in Tarime, approximately 830 km northwest of commercial capital Dar es Salaam. While much of Africa outlaws same-sex unions, elderly women of a small northern Tanzania tribe, the Kuria, marry younger women to bear them children and provide domestic care for them thanks to an age-old tradition. Divorced or windowed and in their sunset years, Mkungu, as the elder women are known in the local language, seek younger women to marry, Mke-mwana, to look after their fields and cattle and bear them children with a male often selected from the elder woman's clan, the children of whose union are deemed to belong to the elder woman and take-on her family name. AFP PHOTO/Tony KARUMBA (Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images

According to Maningo, Kurya tribal law dictates that only men can inherit property, and women began marrying other women as a means to share custody of male offspring, who would in turn ensure that property stayed in the family even after the women were widowed or abandoned by their husbands.

“The unions involve women living, cooking, working, and raising children together, even sharing a bed, but they don’t have sex,” Marie Claire’s Abigail Haworth notes.

In fact, many people in the Kurya tribe aren’t even aware that gay sex “exists.” Homophobia is so deeply rooted in Tanzanian culture that just this week, a politician in the country suggested arresting people who followed homosexuals on Instagram.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY EPHREM RUGIRIRIZA A picture taken on June 29, 2010 shows Munge Gati, 62, (l) seated in her compound with wife, Masero Gati, 20, (R) and their children at a village in Tarime, Tanzania, approximately 832 km northwest of commercial capital Dar es Salaam. While much of Africa outlaws same-sex unions, elderly women of a small northern Tanzania tribe, the Kuria, marry younger women to bear them children and provide domestic care for them thanks to an age-old tradition. Divorced or windowed and in their sunset years, Mkungu, as the elder women are known in the local language, seek younger women to marry, Mke-mwana, to look after their fields and cattle and bear them children with a male often selected from the elder woman's clan, the children of whose union are deemed to belong to the elder woman and take-on her family name. AFP PHOTO/Tony KARUMBA (Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images

“Nobody can touch us,” said Mugosi Isombe, another Kurya woman in a same-sex relationship. In their village, female same-sex couples make up roughly 15 percent of the households.

“If any men tried to take our property or hurt us, they would be punished by tribal elders because they have no rights over our household,” she said. “All the power belongs to us.”

Maningo added: “They realize the arrangement gives them more power and freedom. It combines all the benefits of a stable home with the ability to choose their own male sexual partners.”

For more on international LGBT issues, visit Logo’s Global Ally site.

h/t Mic

Matthew Tharrett is a writer, filmmaker, and above all else, a Britney fan. He once shared a milkshake with Selena Gomez.
@mattharrett