Rwandan families are complicating marriage of their children by setting high dowry, budgets for wedding ceremonies, and making decisions over choice of ones’ partner, a new survey has shown, potentially undermining the traditional understanding of marriage.
The survey, whose findings were made public in Kigali on Thursday, was conducted by the Ministry of Sports and Culture and Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture (RALC), about values that should characterise marriage in Rwandan culture.
According to the survey, the amount of dowry is dependent on the background of the girl, her education, job, and family, among others. The dowry varies from one cow, more or less depending on the aforementioned conditions.
The findings were announced at a meeting attended by officials from government institutions together with development partners, including faith based institutions.
The workshop was organised by the Ministry of Sports and Culture to discuss values of marriage in Rwandan society as well as the challenges facing families.
Releasing the findings, officials said dowry has lost its traditional meaning, becoming more like a business.
The discussions featured different sessions under which various panelists were given time to discuss topics including marriage of Rwandans and its values, the role of families in preparing marriage and helping newly weds to have a significant future, role of government institutions and private sector in Rwandan marriage as well as way forward.
The panelists included Francis Kaboneka, the minister for local government and social affairs; Esperance Nyirasafari, the minister for gender and family promotion; Julienne Uwacu, the minister for sports and culture; Marie-Immaculée Ingabire, the chairperson of Transparency International Rwanda; Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje, from Anglican Church of Rwanda; Smaragde Mbonyintege, Bishop of Kabgayi Diocese; and Anastase Shyaka, the chief executive of Rwanda Governance Board – who was the moderator .
Minister Kaboneka warned parents against interrupting their children’s choice of spouses, saying they should realise that love is valued than anything else related to marriage.
He also faulted parents who deny their daughters to marry ‘poor’ partners.
“Whether parents accept or not, the government should focus on spouses’ agreement and how much they promised to love each other. The role of parents is to give advice to the spouse not to set bridal price,” Kaboneka said.
Minister Nyirasafari said dowry is not a must or a price but a symbol of recognition, calling on the community to change their wrong mindsets about dowry.
Minister Uwacu said that though culture can evolve, citizens should be gatekeepers of their culture by selecting what is in conformity with their values.
Several challenges were listed among the main consequences that spouses face after over spending on dowry or wedding ceremonies such as divorce, domestic conflicts, poverty, among others.
Some people have had their properties auctioned after failing to pay bank loans acquired to prepare luxurious ceremonies beyond their ability, officials said.
“Due to the development, parents are left out in their children’s marriage preperations. They no longer have a voice. Some values are no longer considered during wedding ceremonies,” Boniface Rucagu, a member of the Rwanda Elders Advisory Council, said.
Monsignor Smaragde Mbonyintege said marriage is a sacred institution that a family, state or anything else might not hinder.
“Family, state and religions should intervene to support what the spouses have decided themselves. Religions have the role to teach their followers to consider marriage beyond race, religion, tribe, among others, but valuing love,” he said.
Commenting on the role of private sector in institutions of marriage, Ingabire said no party can exclude itself because the consequences of domestic conflicts affect the entire community.
“Currently, there are misconceptions over the importance and worth of dowry. There are some reports that dowry is one of the causes of domestic violence in the country because some people think that by paying dowry, it makes them own their spouses,” she said.
In their recommendations, official decided that all partners churches, state and private sector join their hands to sensitise communities on matters of bride price, and values that characterised marriage in Rwanda over generations.