Uganda Supreme Court rules on bride price | Africa | DW | 06.08.2015
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Africa

Uganda Supreme Court rules on bride price

The practice of exchanging money or goods for a bride remains common in Uganda. The country's highest court has ruled parts of the practice unconstitutional, paving the way for a greater protection of women rights.

The Supreme Court of Uganda declared demanding a refund of a "bride price" - the traditional custom of exchanging money, cows or goods for a wife - unconstitutional on Thursday.

In a 6-1 decision, the justices ruled that a man doesn't have the right to claim repayment from his spouse's family if the marriage ends. Husbands often expect the dowry to be returned in cases of dissolution of the marriage.

Some of the chief justices expressed their reasoning for the ruling.

The constitutional challenge to the practice was launched by MIFUMI, a Ugandan organization combating domestic violence and the bride price, with the support of other women's rights organizations. The group had originally sought to outlaw the tradition because it reduces women to men's property.

While the practice itself was not struck down by the court, MIFUMI said it hoped that at least the ban on refunds of bride prices would help women leave abusive relationships.

What is a bride price?

A bride price is the custom of a groom paying a woman's family with money, cows, land or other material goods in exchange for a wife. The tradition originated as an official recognition of a marriage and as a gift for the bride's family. It was also believed to add value to the woman and protect her from abuse in her new household.

The practice remains common in Uganda, particularly in rural communities but also in urban centers.

A bride and groom arrive at their wedding in Kampala, Uganda. The bride price is a customary exchange of animals, money or goods between the husband and the wife's family.

The bride price remains a traditional part of many weddings

The modern bride price still follows the same principal of exchange, but families are now often asked to sign contracts with the groom as proof of payment of the bride price.

Impact on women's lives

Critics argue that the system has become commercialized and turned women into commodities. Rights groups have further argued that such a dowry violates Uganda's constitution, which guarantees women protection from traditions, laws, cultures, and customs that undermine gender equality.

Researchers at Makerere Medical School in Kampala published findings in 2005 about the perceptions of the bride price custom among Ugandans in Wakiso District.

"Participants perceived bride price as indicating that a woman was 'bought' into the man's household, which reduced her household decision-making roles," reads the study. "[The bride price] limited women's independence and perpetuated unequal gender power relations."

Paying a bride price alters the perception of women in a relationship. The tradition has been shown to have negative impacts on women, including higher rates of domestic violence.

The bride price has been shown to harm women

Studies have also shown that the practice is connected to domestic violence, leaving women more vulnerable to physical, verbal and emotional abuse.

Researchers at the University of Bristol and the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom found that the current bride price system actually increased instances of marital violence.

"The research clearly demonstrates that the commoditization of wives has led to deleterious social impacts, especially in terms of increased domestic violence and male power over women," reads the article.

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