Bride price fuels gender violence

This results because after a man has married through payment of bride price, he feels like he owns the woman. It also makes it very difficult for a woman to seek a divorce if she is living in unhappy or unsafe circumstances, for fear her parents will have to pay back the bride price they had long used.

Some of the items that are offered as bride price include hard cash money, heads of cattle, sheep, goats, land, clothing and domestic items. However, nowadays many families prefer cash rather than the items.

Of those interviewed for the research, 68.9 percent said that bride price does contribute toward gender violence in marriage.

It also results in women’s lack of participation in decision making on family matters. Some men openly ridicule or scold their wives that they can’t own or decide on ownership, distribution and expenditure of the family wealth because have been bought to be servants.

Those interviewed said that because of the big amount of money paid, men become angry, beat up their wives and force them to do strenuous manual work even when they are sick.

The report also suggests that payment of bride price contributes to forced and early marriages. Girls, including those in primary schools, are leaving school so that they can get married to a man who pays bride price. Women marry husbands they do not love simply because the man is rich and would pay a hefty lucrative bride price to the parents.

Marital rape becomes the order of the day because sex becomes a duty in marriage and the woman has no voice against the wishes of the man. This forces her to bear children at the discretion of the husband and often without proper family planning.

Despite the fact that payment of bride price is a custom and tradition of many Tanzanian ethnic groups, the research revealed that many consider bride price as a way of generating income. Some parents depend on bride price to solve some of family problems including food, and clothing.

Debate generated by the research showed that some people demand the abolishment of pride price to give women more freedom in their marriage. Others, including women, say the payment is crucial for maintaining traditions and customs in legalizing marriages and maintaining respect and dignity of both parties.

Some women stated the bride price makes them feel worthy in marriage. They claimed that women lose respect from their husbands and their in-laws in general if they are married without bride price.

Those interviewed mentioned that due to increasing costs of living, many men fail to pay bride price. Some indicated that bride price should only be used a present, not the kind of fashion it is being orchestrated nowadays by some parents who have turned it into a source of wealth generating.

Some mentioned that the bigger problem is not really bride price, but a history of Tanzanian traditional customs that treat a woman as a weakling ‘ someone who does not have any rights or powers even over her own body and cannot make any decisions in the community setting she lives in.

One recommendation is that the scale of bride price should be modest to look just like a present, not the purchase of a person. There a great need for parents to be educated to discard the tradition of charging huge bride prices since that hurts the husbands and puts their daughters in precarious positions.

Education against acts of women harassment is required so that communities will understand that no one is supposed to harass another person.

There are appreciated efforts by some non-government organisations to mediate conflict in marriages. However, the law should take responsibility when a woman there is physical injury. In such cases, it is necessary for punitive measures against the culprits to serve as a lesson to others instead of just resolving such serious conflicts by fining the culprit through clothing or local brew.

Women should also be more open and transparent to expose acts of harassment committed on them instead of being shy or fearful to reveal the husband’s misconduct. Women should also develop interest of reading and asking question to increase their awareness and knowledge on their rights.

All stakeholders, the government, non-government and community-based organisations need to play their role in the efforts to fight gender-based violence. Together we will win!

l Joyce Mkinga is a Tanzanian journalist. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.

July 2006
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