By: Ollus Ndomu
Bride – price or bride wealth is a commonplaced practice across Africa. Largely practiced in rural areas as a cultural norm to validate customary marriages, bride – price is a contract where the groom pays material items or money to the bride’s family in exchange for the bride. In many cases, men mistake it for buying a woman and wives are often regarded as an article of property in marriages.
In urban areas that have become cosmopolitan cities, the practice is changing significantly. Marriages are being validated by payment of money or goods that are non-refundable. Although the past benefits of bride – price are widely recognized, its negative impact on modern family life is a cause for worry. Women and children are often regarded as man’s property which he can exchange at any time, that is to say marrying off his young daughters or turning family members as beasts of burdens. This is more common in families where the man has no education at all.
Bride – price is linked to violation of women’s rights, domestic violence and poverty. The emergence of feminism in some parts of Africa has seen calls for its reform as even the name itself should change from bride – price to something better. The name ‘Bride – price” sounds as though women are commodities or goods that men should own. One might say it is cultural enslavement for women.
The practice is said to cement gender inequality, belittling women and possibly turning them into commodities that are passed on from family to family. Women across the African continent have no right to object this practice as such a move would be considered taboo and attracts dire actions. Bride – price to some extent is masculinity hegemony (male dominance) and power in families. The word ‘wife’ in rural Africa is synonymous with slavery as men often behave like colonial masters but in an African skin. Wives have little power over their marriages because bride – price turns them into possessions. Marriage unions have continued being unequal because their validation is also an act of commodifying human relationships.
Wives are going through maltreatment and young girls are being married off for their parents to raise money through bride – price. By implication, girls are being deprived of education, women appear worthless unless paid for, and their parents’ homes are markets where they (girls) are fattened for sell. This practice is a ground for virtual enslavement of women because even in worst of marriage situations, women cannot leave if their families are unable to repay the bride – price. It is even worse now because bride – price fees have become exorbitant especially if the women is educated to a certain level.
On the part of men, the practice may cause male inferiority complex in an event where a man fails to pay for the woman after his heart. Moreover, many marriages start out in poverty because young men with little resource spend almost everything on bride – price. This renders them incapable of taking good care of their families. In some instances, young men go through severe debts and therefore, start out, not only in poverty, but also in indebtedness. Consequently, the new couple is disadvantaged and has it difficulty to build income and sustainability.
Aligning with problems associated with bride – price in preceding paragraphs, the need to reform this practice is indisputable. Bride – price should be a gift of modest size, voluntarily given (not an expectation) and non-refundable. The validation of customary marriage by bride – price should be outlawed and replace with something better and fair for both men and women. Official and religious expectations that bride –price must be paid should also be removed. With respect to long-term development, cultural change and public awareness raising, Africa must change its approaches to marriages. Marriage now is a womb of grave violations because families have taken it as a business venture.
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