The First Move: Is Gambian Society Ready for Female Suitors?

[By Mamudou Jallow]

Traditionally, we are used to a man asking for a woman’s hand in marriage. That is how it had happened in our society from the time of our forefathers to now, and we’ve grown to accept it as such. In the olden days, the man’s parents approached the woman’s parents on behalf of their son in what were mostly arranged marriages. However, today the two would-be couples agree between themselves to get married but yet still it is the man and his family that make the first public move.

We’ve all come to recognize the presentation of the first cola nuts by the man’s family as the declaration of intent on the part of the man to wed the woman. For many women, the occasion is hardly anything to forget. Families from both sides agree in advance on a date and time for the presentation of the first cola nuts. It is only then that the elders of the groom to-be will make the visit to the elders of the bride to-be to express their son’s intentions with kilos of fresh kola nuts as demanded by tradition.

How many more times the suitor’s family has to come back before the tying of the knot depends from one tribe to another and from one family to another. However, across all the cultures in our society, it is the man that seeks out the woman. This has always being the case, and this is what is currently in place. Women have always waited for suitors. But should that always be the case?

Imagine an independent, successful and highly educated young Gambian woman in this day and age- thankfully, there are a lot of them these days. However, due to the misconceptions around such women, some men find it difficult to muster the courage to ask for such women’s hands in marriage. So in a society where the men have to move first, some women may have to wait for a long time for the men to actually “man-up” to ask for their hands in marriage. Such an arrangement is not only unfair to women, but it also removes the decision of when to marry from women. It is time to change this.

Whereas some men may hesitate to approach a successful woman for whatever reason, success should be a grace and not a curse for any woman. There is nothing that should hold back a woman from identifying a man that they think would make a good husband and acting on such a hunch. If it is OK for our men, then why wouldn’t it be for our women?

However for this to happen, mindsets must change. As a society we must accept that our women have their own feelings and as such they must be allowed, without any judgment, to initiate the selection process for a husband. The Gambian woman must also be allowed to move first in choosing the man she may want to live with for the rest of her life.

It is time for us to accept that a woman can make the first move on a man and not lose any of her dignity as a lady. If a man seeking a woman is not badly characterized, then a woman doing same should not be lambasted as ‘desperate.’ Such characterizations are unfair and hypocritical. It is time to reinvent the wheel in the way we approach the institution of marriage from here going forward. Let’s tell the women that it is OK to make the first move.