Extreme Wives: Kate Humble explores woman-to-woman marriage in Kenya

Extreme Wives with Kate Humble in Kenya
Kate Humble investigates woman-to-woman marriage in Kenya. Photo: © BBC. Photographer: Alexis Girardet

For her new BBC 2 series, Extreme Wives, Kate Humble spent time with communities all over the world, looking at how the roles of men and women tell us something about how a society works, and how the everyday lives of women in particular reveal its values.

Over three episodes, she explores diverse and extraordinary communities in Kenya, Israel and India, where the roles of women are exceptional, complex and sometimes extreme.

In the first episode, Kate visits the predominantly Christian district of Kuria in southwest Kenya. Traditionally cattle-herding warriors, the Kuria people are now mostly agricultural farmers, but cattle remain important as currency in marriage.

While the Kuria are polygamous, with men allowed to marry a multiple wives, what makes this community so fascinating is that they also practice woman-to-woman marriage known as Nyumba Mboke. These woman-to-woman marriages aren’t sexual, and young Nyumba Mboke wives can either become pregnant by men outside of the household, or come to the family already having had a child.

During a visit to the local church, Kate hears a preacher warn against female genital mutilation (FGM) which is an issue that is at the heart of this community. The practise, a tradition that is firmly rooted in Kuria society, was made illegal in Kenya in 2011 and the church has joined the fight to eradicate it.

Despite FGM being illegal, male circumcision is not only legal but is also viewed as an important rite of passage into adulthood. Along with journalist and local man, Peter Murimi, Kate talks to people in the community, anti-FGM campaigners and even manages to get a meeting with the tribal elders who say they can’t support the ending of FGM as they believe it will anger their god Eresa.

Extreme Wives with Kate Humble is scheduled for broadcast tonight (10 November) on BBC 2 at 9pm in the UK.