Rwanda Women’s Network, a local non-governmental organisation which promotes socio-economic welfare of women is lobbying for a law to change the existing cultural practices around bride price.
The lobby says this is because the current cultural practice around dowry or gifts to the bride’s family encourages exploitation of both women and men as families decide how much should be paid before a traditional marriage can be approved.
As a result, some are young people are stopped from pursuing official marriage because they cannot afford to pay dowry while some men use it to frustrate their wives after it has been paid.
These issues were recently discussed during a dialogue organised by Rwanda Women’s Network.
Jacques Nzabonimpa, director of culture at Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture (RALC), and representative of the Ministry of Culture and Sports observed in the Rwandan tradition, dowry was a symbol of unity among two families and was supposed to stay as remembrance overtime.
“Offering cows to the bride’s family was meant to show respect and as a form of appreciation to the bride’s family and must be refunded back to the boy’s family once it produces offspring’s,” Mr Nzabonimpa said.
He explained that in ancient Rwanda, dowry was either a cow or a goat, but for poor families that could not afford, the King would intervene.
“Today, many families have turned it into a trade where they’re too greedy to get money from their children.
Girls are like commodities and boys are buyers.” “Commercial-driven dowry has led to inequalities where the bride is expected to bring households items as many as equivalent to the amount paid by the groom as dowry,” he noted.
“We have conducted research that is yet to be released that will show dowry demanded and its dependence in all parts of the country,” he added.
Mary Balikungeri, executive director of Rwanda Women’s Network called for policy that could stop modern families that have opted for money instead of cows or any other form of dowry in line with Rwandan culture.
“It has been noted that today’s marriage process utmost manifested with inequalities, conflicts and divorces,” Ms Balikungeri said.
“Dowry is a burden to brides and grooms, even when they manage to marry each other after giving out a lot of money, they normally do not leave in harmony because either one of the partners is targeting properties from the other,” she said.
“We have cases where men have opted to impregnate their partners before marriage after realising they cannot afford to pay the required dowry and other attached wedding expenses,”added Ms Balikungeri.
Olive Uwamariya told Rwanda Today that her father tried for many times to stop her marriage before the groom paid a dowry of Rwf1 million.
“He had the money, but I thought it was not necessary for him to pay that money because for me it looked like I am being sold to the man’s family,” she says.
“My father insisted that he should pay, but I had to resist in all ways till when he agreed and we are now married with children. And there are many young women and men who think that their parents have full rights in their marriages, but this mentality should change,” she said.
“If we do not stand for our rights and refuse parents to ruin our futures by allowing other people to decide for us who to marry, we will continue to suffer to get married,” she warned.
“Since parents do not make decisions at our legal age, they should not be having this right too when it comes to marriage issues,” said Ms Uwamariya.
“We need to critically look at equality, understand it and connect it to the evolution that we are in and the impact it is having on the current generation,” she said.
“Dowry was based on a patriarchal system with the man paying the dowry not woman, but in the current system, it is as if women to pay dowry indirectly,” said Betty Mutesi, country director at International Alert, “Even though men pay dowry, women are also required to come with all household items, which at a time are costly than what the groom offered as dowry to the bride’s family,” Ms Mutesi said.
“There is a need to ensure that there is an agreed process on which dowry should be handled to favour both the bride and groom, otherwise the process has gone astray,” added Ms Mutesi.
She added: “Parents need to discuss this issue so that we are the ones to support our children during the marriage.”
“This would deal with misunderstandings between two families without looking at who did what, which results into the domestic violence and divorces of today.”
MsBalikungeri requested Ministry of Culture and Sports to help come up with strategies to ensure the issue is considered for more discussions.
“If the ministry could help us and prioritise the dowry challenges faced by Rwandan, we shall be grateful,” said Ms Barikungeli.
Mr Nzabonimpa told women at the dialogue that their requests will be considered and action taken soon.
He, however, said that what has destroyed Rwandan culture is the continued tendency of Rwandan to copy western and parent’s failure to teach their children.
“Rwandans need to get back to their grandfather’s culture and not only in marriage but also on other social economic matters,” he said.