Let’s Talk Dowry

Growing up in a staunch Christian home, I was well groomed on what is expected of a noble wife, that which Proverbs chapter 31 describes, ‘a wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies’ Proverbs 31:10.

Discipline was key; I learned what is expected of me by society and especially how to behave’ myself when I get married. In my life of courtship, I met one guy who never believed in wedding ceremonies, let alone paying the bride price. His idea was, we movein together, and we ‘make it work’. I never got to respond to this statement and at the end of it all, I ended up being branded the most complicated individual he has ever met (truth be told, everyone says am complicated, and I think I am).

This got me thinking. For a start, let us get some words right. More than often, people confuse the meaning of bride price and Dowry.

SUSAN NYABENA

Bride price or bridewealth is money that is paid by the groom to the bride’s family at the time of marriage and Dowry is money paid by the bride to the groom’s family at the time of marriage or wealth transferred to the husband’s family.

Bride price is one of the beautiful traditions that is still practised today in many parts of the world despite civilization. It is seen as a form of bonding between the bride’s and the groom’s family, and it acts as a form of appreciation by the groom’s family to the bride’s family for taking care of the bride. It also shows commitment by the groom to having the lady as his wife.

In Kenya, the amount of bride price expected from the man varies with different situations including; virginity (it is higher if the lady is a virgin), social status (lady coming from a wealthy family increases the amount of bride price), level of education (woe unto the man who marries the lady with masters or PhD and a fat salary). Men give up on the women they love because they cannot afford to pay the bride price, others resort to cohabiting or unplanned pregnancies obliging the families to agree with them being married. People have gotten in debt just to offset the bride price, which entangles them in poverty.

Bride price has, for a long time, been seen as a factor in instigating gender inequality. It perpetuates Gender-Based Violence in marriages. Some of my male friends say the amount of money they spend on the bride price and the wedding is like buying a piece of land, and it gives them the ‘right’ to own the lady. It automatically reduces the status of the woman in marriage, her decision making power, her Sexual, Reproductive and Health Rights not to mention their financial status. There are ladies that undergo virginity tests; they are forced to get married to men they do not love as long as they can pay good dowry price. Women have had to stay in violent relationships because their families cannot afford to pay back the bride price. The fact is payment of bride price can lead to poverty, the debt that most people get into, and have fundraising committees. Bride price is used to gauge the financial stability of their future son in law. The man is expected to have a car, a house, bring bank statements and all. In my community, bulls have just to be part of the bride price regardless of how much money the man is offering. Parents use bride price to extort money from the groom that has presented the women as property to bought.

In communities that pay Dowry, it is considered as a form of protection of the women to avoid being taken advantage of. Dowry is considered as a token to the young couple as they start their marriage; it buffers the lady in case of the husband’s death or during a divorce. Dowry acts as a form of security or form of inheritance that is to be divided among the children.

SUSAN NYABENA

What would happen if our society considers the line of dowry payment instead of bride price? Will it reduce the violence experience in marriages? Will it reduce monetizing marriages and the pressure of marrying rich men? Will it allow women to make decisions about their lives without the permission of their husbands? Bride price ought to be a good culture that should be appreciated rather than being used as a money-making business.

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