While in Uganda, I’ve had a few interesting conversations about dowries and bride prices. Here’s a link to my initial post where I recount my conversation about gender equality with some female teachers.
The week after this conversation, the students decided to debate whether bride prices should still happen. The debate took place on Friday. Only P4 and P5 were able to attend. P6 and P7 were busy. All the students crowded into a small classroom and took turns voicing their opinions in front of their peers.
Each side had a piece of paper that they would pass around that listed the points. Students mostly read the points off the list and jumbled up whether they proposed or opposed the motion, so I did the best I could with my notes.
Here were the points made:
Motion: Bride prices should be abolished.
Proposers (get rid of the dowries)
Women should not be treated as property Women are not goats and shouldn’t be sold like cattle. Making women items that men can purchase also means that men can neglect their wives.
Dowries lead to sexual immorality among youth Some men cannot afford dowry prices, but they still have sexual desires. This could lead young people to have sex before marriage, which can potentially lead to HIV and the transmission of other STIs.
Dowries lead to late marriages Men who cannot afford dowries must marry later when they are able to afford the dowry. Some men are even dying without marrying anyone because of bride prices.
Dowries increase domestic violence Women cannot leave when domestic violence occurs because her family will have to return the dowry back to the husband. She is pressured to stay with her abuser.
Economic inequality Those without money cannot afford a wife. This is unfair to those who are poor.
Dowries increase poverty The student gave an example where a man didn’t have any cows. To buy a wife, the student explained, the man would have to sell his land to marry the woman he wants, but the wife can’t produce and help the man earn back the land.
Sugar mommies (this was a joke)
Women’s education gets neglected After most women get married, they do not continue their education. Bride prices also incentivize families to sell their daughters while the daughters are young so the family does not have to pay for education
Opposers (want the dowries)
Dowries decrease divorce Wives are obligated to stay with their husbands. If the wife divorces her husband, the family must return the dowry. Without the dowries, the wife will no longer feel obligated to stay with her husband. Interestingly, it was one of the female teachers who made this point. She argued that the dowries should stay because if her husband hit her, she’d be forced to stay so her family could keep the dowry. She saw this as something positive. That is definitely not the way I see it.
Creates respect for women Paying a dowry is a way for a woman to gain respect. It demonstrates that women have a tangible value and that someone is willing to pay a price for her. In this debate I was expecting the females to be arguing against the dowries, but surprisingly the strongest advocates and the majority of the supporters were females. I kind of understand it now. To many of them, dowries are seen as a form of respect, because it gives tangible value.
Helps families earn income The families who are poor can get more money when their daughters get married. This point was made by a P4 girl. She said that the dowry that her family received would go to her brother, which her brother could then use to buy a wife.
Creates unity between families After the dowry is paid, the families are now united by the dowry. It was weird to me that they saw this dowry as the magical uniting factor, instead of the marriage by itself. Many of the women asked me (in much better terms) what prevents people from marrying whomever they want whenever they want? A good point. Nothing is stopping me from marrying some random guy I just met.
Give men respect Men gain respect in his wife’s family through the dowry. I wonder if the kids think that men will get absolutely no respect from their bride’s family without a bride price.
Women get married anyway Marriage is inevitable, so families might as well get money for it. All of this debate seemed to hinge on the fact that not getting married was the end of the world and that every single person absolutely must get married.
Saves time It’s a waste of time for a woman to go to college if she will get married. No comment necessary.
Creates love You must have love in order to get married, and the dowry helps create that bond. I found this interesting, because this was completely opposite from what the women told me last time.
No dowries makes men thieves If you raise a female child and a man takes her without compensation, that man is a thief. I wanted to intervene here and ask them if a man is considered to be taken away from his family when he gets married. There seemed to be an idea that women leave their families, but men get to maintain their connections to their own family. That was the impression I got.
Without an exchange of money, women are prostitutes If you don’t offer a bride price and a woman has sex with you, that woman is a prostitute. This surprised me. They didn’t even divulge into the fact that in this scenario the man could be considered a prostitute as well.
Maintains culture tradition!
Conor writes about his observations of gender dynamics in Uganda in his latest post.