When Men Touch Women Without License

Interrogating the Reasons for Women’s Entry into Consensual Unions in Urban Accra, Ghana

Rosemary Obeng-Hinneh


The last few decades have seen a significant increase in the incidences of consensual unions, particularly in the urban spaces of African societies. The trend has heightened scholars’ interest in the circumstances responsible for the practice. Several studies have discussed consensual unions at the macro level and pointed to structural factors like modernization, urbanization, and changes in marriage payments. Drawing on Randall Collins’s (2004) Theory of Situations, this paper employs a micro-level analysis of the causes of consensual unions. Data is from in-depth interviews conducted with persons in consensual unions in Accra, Ghana. The paper focuses on the experiences of women and argues that aside from the more structural issues, the factors that influence entry into what I describe as consensual unions can be understood from the immediate circumstances that confront an individual at a specific point in time. For the purposes of this paper I define a consensual union as one in which a man and woman, living together or not, conduct themselves as a married couple when they have either not begun or completed the customary marriage rites and ceremonies required to be recognized as a married couple.

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