Sometimes you read an article or hear a news story on the radio that puts you off; well, that was the reaction I had, when I read about one of the new petitions the Ugandan Constitutional Court had to hear.
According to the New Vision newspaper, a city lawyer had decided to defend bride price against some women from Eastern Uganda who wished to the court to declare the paying of bride price unconstitutional and therefore illegal.
I have always had a problem with the idea of bride price; not because I am too much of a cheapskate to give a cow or two to the father of the bride but rather because I believe that it is, in principal, unfair.
This is the question that I always ask myself whenever I attend a traditional ‘gusaba’ (introduction) ceremony; “why is the groom’s family supposed to give a few heads of cattle to the bride’s family”?
I believe, and I stand to be corrected if I am wrong, that the giving of cattle was a formal way of compensating the groom’s family.
The assumption was that they lost the girl to another parent. The bride would leave her family and become a member of the grooms-the bride’s family would lose a pair of hand that would have helped with the housework like fetching wood and cooking meals while the grooms would gain an extra pair of hands.
Therefore, the cows acted like compensation. At least that is what I think and as I said before, I stand to be corrected.
Therefore, that is my theory explaining bride price. However, I do not think the rationale that held true those years back hold water these days. First, the bride’s family has not lost a single thing; most women of marriageable age these days already live by themselves, so the argument that the girl’s family has lost ‘free labour’ is invalid.
She ‘hands’ were lost a few years before the potential groom had even appeared in the picture.
Secondly, unlike before, the family hasn’t gained an extra pair of hand; “why”? Because the groom, with his bride in tow, will probably strike, out on, his own and reside nowhere near his ancestral home. So, why are we people still asked to give cattle away?
I asked a female friend of mine why she supported the bride price; she lived, in opulent style, by herself, she had a nice job; in fact, she lived quite the life but the thought of her moving into holy matrimony without a few heads of cattle remaining in her fathers hands was a foreign concept to her.
To her, the giving of cattle was a ‘token of appreciation’ to her family. “For what”, I asked. “For raising me well”.
Now that was the crux of the matter, I believe.
The ladies family is supposed to be rewarded for putting her through school and teaching her the good manners that makes her the ‘finished article’ that the groom wants to sprint away. I believe that that way of thinking is wrong and possibly sexist.
Are we, men, supposed to reward the girl’s family for doing what they are supposed to do in the first place? I mean, fairness dictates that if it is all appreciating the parenting skills of the in-laws, then it should be both ways.
If I am supposed to give the girl’s family a few heads of cattle for rearing her well, then I expect my dad to get a few animals as well for doing his bit as well!
The MIFUMI Project, the women’s rights charity based in the Tororo district of Eastern Uganda, based its petition to abolish the paying of bride on their belief that the custom was ‘promoting gender inequality, led to female battering and had become commercialized and therefore abused’.
I am not sure whether the bride price causes domestic violence; after all, Europeans do not pay bride price but women still are battered like hot cakes. However, the point of gender inequality is a valid one.
You cannot ask to be treated equal if you want to be treated in a special manner. It is unfair to demand your cake and ask to eat it as well.
But the world is crazy…I can’t quite understand why in the world the Ugandan women are the ones asking for the banning of the practice and the men are the ones demanding that the status quo remains as it is…I’d think that it would be the men asking for its ban…but what do I know anyway?