Faustin Nyirinkwaya is a proud father of three girls aged ten and twelve. Like most parents, he expects his girls to go through the usual drill; school, work and marriage. He also expects to receive bride price when someone asks for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
Nyirinkwaya is a traditional man who believes that modernity has diluted the original essence of this norm which has been equated to buying off women like property.
He says that traditionally paying bride price was actually a “token of appreciation to the bride’s parents.”
He adds that although this cultural norm has been abused, bride price is still an important part of the Rwandan culture.
“The fact that our country is developing doesn’t mean that our culture should suffer or be abolished. We shouldn’t remove the cultural norms that were respected by our ancestors. It is a source of pride and respect for both the girl and her family,” he says
Nyirinkwaya advises men to refrain from acting or feeling superior to their wives just because they paid pride price for them.
“I have heard issues of domestic violence based on dowry. Men should not make that a basis to abuse their wives because no one can put a price tag on a human being regardless of how much was paid as bride price,” Nyirinkwaya says.
Margaret Mukarugamba is an elderly resident of Gahini Sector, Eastern Province. She says that bride price has long been a part of Rwanda’s cultural norms and has a lot of significance in our society.
“A girl whose bride price has been paid commands respect in society and her parents revel in pride because of it. With the payment of bride price, the man shows that he is really into having the girl as his wife,” Mukarugamba says.
She explains that discarding bride price, poses the risk of people going into non-committal relationships which end up in broken families.
However, critics of bride price culture say that the times have changed and so should this tradition.
Jessica Kayitesi, a single working mother, says that bride price is necessary but times have changed and the Rwandan culture must evolve to accommodate the changes.
“The distressing thing is that men who are willing to marry are few and with such expenses, fewer are even willing to take the step toward marriage. This, on the other hand, affects society as most resort to cohabiting or having children before marriage,” Kayitesi says.
Godfrey Neza is a single man who hopes to marry one day. He says that the idea of paying bride price is not bad and is necessary because of the cultural values attached.
He, however, says that some men shy away from marriage because bride price has been commercialized and is too expensive.
“In some cases, payment of bride price makes some ladies who are ready for marriage to stay home longer because the men cannot afford it. This probably explains the rise in unplanned pregnancies,” he says
He says that in some instances, especially in rural areas, some women have been forced to stay in abusive marriages because their families cannot afford to pay back the bride price.
Florence Nikuze is a mother of four including two daughters. She says that while she supports the payment of dowry, some families’ unreasonable demands have watered down the essence of the cultural norm.
“Normally, the groom should bring what he can afford since the payment is only a way of showing appreciation and respect to the girl’s family. It should not be about selling off his possessions just because you want millions of money as dowry before allowing your daughter to get married,” she says
Yvette Muteteri, a Women Mobilization Officer at the National Women’s Council says that bride price in the Rwandan culture has always been there from as far as the ancient years.
She explains that, before dowry was set at one cow since it held great meaning in the Rwandan culture. The family receiving the dowry was full of pleasure as that cow always reminded them of the pride of having brought up their daughter well.
She says that because of those reasons, bride price ought to be maintained and respected within the boundaries of Rwandan culture. She however acknowledges that a lot has changed and the traditional concept of dowry has been altered.
“Bride price is not giving just a cow anymore, it has turned into business. People carry expensive gifts and cash for dowry. That’s why people see it as a trade yet it’s, not since no amount of money can buy a human being,” Muteteri says.
She adds that bride price is one of the causes of gender based violence and this is brought about by how people in the modern era view it.
She, therefore, argues that there is need to create awareness about the importance, value and the true meaning of bride price.
Practice linked to domestic violence across the world
According to the United Nations, bride price-related violence is a serious problem that affects the lives of women and girls. Bride price includes gifts, money, goods or property given by the man to the family of the bride or in-laws.
Violence and deaths associated with bride price demands can constitute domestic violence. Similar to acts of domestic violence, the acts used in dowry-related offenses include physical, emotional, and economic violence, as well as harassment and stalking as means to exact compliance or to punish the victim.
Women often struggle with bringing successful claims of dowry-related violence, as emotional and economic violence are difficult to prove in a court of law.
However, bride price-related violence is distinct from domestic violence in that the husband or current partner may not be the only perpetrator of bride price-related violence or death. In-laws, former spouses, or fiancés may also commit acts of bride price-related violence.
Perpetrators may also use methods of starvation, deprivation of clothing, evictions, and false imprisonment as a method of extortion. They often use violence disguised as suicides or accidents, such as stove or kerosene disasters, to burn or kill women for failing to meet dowry demands.