Can bridal showers help gender inequality and discrimination fight?

A man should be treated like a baby. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. A man will most likely cheat on you, you just have to be patient.

These are just some of the many common phrases used in modern day bridal showers that have sparked a controversial topic on whether bridal showers are still relevant in today’s society or not.

As such, Rwanda Women’s Network (RWN), a national humanitarian non-government organisation dedicated to promotion and improvement of the socio-economic welfare of women in Rwanda, on Tuesday organised a panel discussion titled ‘Bridal showers: For women or men also?’, to help Rwandans understand its dynamics in the cultural, feminist and male perspective.

“We need to know whether we should keep these spaces to prepare women for marriage and if we do, what our messages are. Should we keep the men engaged as well, or should they keep their own space? We need to remember that we are in an era of inclusiveness and in a country keeping the sustainable development goals (SDGs),” Mary Balikungeri explained.

The discussion sparked a debate on the relevance of bridal showers to the wellbeing of Rwandan families, with some arguing that the spaces are not properly used to fit within the modern era.

Bridal showers in traditional Rwanda

Rose-Marie Mukarutabana shared her knowledge on how bridal showers were celebrated traditionally.

She revealed that bridal showers in Rwanda contained two stages, namely Guhana, giving advice and Gusezera umugeni, bidding farewell to the bride.

Guhanawas where ideas were inculcated. The training itself was specifically done in urubohero, a place where girls learned how to weave, among other things. The idea was to teach sex education and reproductive health and the girls were trained by older women.

Gusezera umugeniwas held on the eve of the wedding, where the girl’s friends and relatives gathered together and sang songs that incited tears. The bride cried because she was going to a home where she didn’t know anybody and was not sure how she’d cope.

“If she didn’t cry they sang specific songs to make her cry. Traditionally it was constant as these meetings at urubohero were held every week,” she said.

Immaculee Ingabire, a feminist, on the other hand, believes that traditionally, bridal showers were centred on gender, and with them came gender stereotypes that aimed at pleasing the man.

As it is today in villages, she said, during bridal showers, the bride-to-be must sit on the floor, while the others sit on chairs. According to her, this practice makes the bride vulnerable, and is a direct message to her that she should lay low in her home.

She added that as society transitions to modernity, society ought to maintain its values. Just like the girl is not qualified for marriage, so is the boy, they both need preparation.

 “As was the norm, the girls were told to be responsible for their husband’s wellbeing, but it was done out of love so that the girl was not chased away from the home. But the boy was not told anything as if there was no partnership in the home.

“In church, before couples wed, they undergo marriage counselling together. Why is it that families from both parties cannot come together and give counsel to the couple? Is the girl’s ultimate purpose to entertain the husband,” she asked.

Involving men

Mukarutabana revealed that contrary to what many believe, men in the past were educated as homemakers because they were taught that they had the hardest role in the families, and that they sacrificed everything for their families, while they believed that their wives at home had an easier life.

“We need to put ourselves in men’s shoes because then we won’t be receptive. Men thought that marriage was difficult because they believed women were very challenging,” she said.

Clement Kirenga, one of the panellists who shared a male perspective, said that hard working but patriarchal men are regretful because they were taught from the beginning that real men have to be the sole breadwinners, and that they never got a chance to participate in bridal showers where they could have been taught how to be good husbands and parents.

“They could have been taught that good husbands should have positive masculinity and that they should use their maleness to interrupt sexism and patriarchy.

“They should have been educated more on sexual consent and not marital rape. They could have learned that they should be responsible, have equal responsibilities as parents and befriend their wives and not torment them, and avoid domestic violence,” he said.

He added that women should be allowed to have their space and do whatever they want to do with them, and real men should give women their rights and not interfere. These spaces, however, would be better if men were getting some information on how to be good husbands and fathers.

Balikungeri said that the only way women can empower themselves is by using the opportunity to reflect on who they are, to build solidarity among themselves. She, however, added that at the end of the day, women must be mindful of their current status, which is the inclusiveness.

“The inclusiveness that involves men without giving up our space. I buy the whole idea of families where these same spaces can be a family affair and what it translates for their future children,” she said.

Elizabeth Rugege, one of the participants, revealed that she has been to a couple of bridal showers where educated women tell their children to serve their husbands. And if they can’t serve them, they must train the maid to do so. While society is empowering the girls, it is bringing up insecure men, they are confused and wondering where their position in society is.

We socialise both the male and female children. Bridal showers are just an extension of socialising our daughters to perpetuate our own oppression and expectation. These are social constructs and what we need to do is train ourselves as mothers to tell our daughters that all these beliefs were taught and can be learned and unlearned, and show them the reality. We have the power to raise our boys, give them love, allow them to cry and let them have empathy for a fairer society,” she said.

Philippa Kibugu, another participant, shared that as a society, we cannot have our spaces without the male companion, and we, therefore, have to include them in one way or the other.

“We need to have meaningful involvement in our spaces and positive practices for both men and women, let’s not live in the past for the sake of it. Women are bold and innovative and should not copy what others do,” she said.

Also, traditions evolve, hired experts have been introduced. The experts meet the girls for the first time which, according to Ingabire, is worse because at least in the past, the aunties knew the girl.

“Nowadays we copy everything including the songs. Most of the songs were composed specifically for a girl and the meaning does not apply to everyone. We need to have meaningful discussions because I have not heard anyone counsel the couple on how to save or discuss family planning,” Ingabire said.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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