What does this ruling mean for the rural woman?
In many rural communities, the practice of demanding a refund of bride price has been the norm. Now, from the legal point of view, anyone found doing this will be acting outside the law.
This ruling applies both to those who paid bride price before the judgement, and those who are planning to pay bride price in the future.
Culturally, when the bride price is paid for the woman, it is given to her brother to use in paying his wife’s bride price.
So, if her marriage failed, the woman decided to suffer abuse because she feared to breakup her brother’s marriage by letting her husband demand back the cows he had paid. Statistics indicate that this practice has resulted in the injury and even death of some women.
With the judgement, if a marriage fails and all social mechanisms to restore it have been exhausted, then one is free to go back home. Cultures cannot be changed in a day.
How should sensitisation be done to change the mindset of the affected people?
We must engage cultural leaders. This is because bride price is attached to customary marriages.
Their input is crucial in furthering the impact of this law. The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development has to come up with a guideline of sensitisation which they should educate the cultural leaders about so that an official position can be uniformly developed. Cultural leaders are usually the first point of call when a marriage is having problems.
A woman can now walk out of her marriage any time she feels mistreated. Won’t this have a negative impact on the institution of marriage?
Some say women will become prostitutes.That is a wrong assumption. Women go into marriages with the determination to make the marriage work. They are sensitive about their children and will suffer abuse for their sake.
Culture ties children to the father; they belong to him. Many women cannot afford to look after their children on their own, so they remain in the marriage.
The ruling alone cannot break the institution of marriage. There are many social factors that accumulate to make a woman leave her marriage.
If she is comfortable, she will not leave. What the ruling has done is to trim the power of men who beat and harass their wives. It is advantageous to marriages.
Is this ruling the best insurance against domestic violence?
The refund of bride price was one of the issues that contributed to domestic violence. The ruling has ensured that abuse caused by the practice is stopped.
However, the major insurance against domestic violence is the police, the law, and the Local Council (LC) system that tries to educate men on the ills of domestic violence.
What is the relevance of this judgement to urban women?
Every marriage, even those of urban women, starts with a customary marriage. Even in urban areas, people insist on bride price being refunded when the marriage breaks down. Cultural leaders and relatives will meet without your consent, in the village, to return it.
Many educated men will not demand for a refund of what they gave to their wife’s parents, but they cannot control the actions of their relatives. So this ruling has an impact on urban women as well.
There is a worry that marriages will be commercialised since a woman can marry and leave as many as three men, all of whom pay dowry.
Why do men think that women are too commercial in marriage? That type of woman cannot even constitute 0.1 per cent of the population.
Men who think like that are the ones who undermine the status of women, insinuating that they do not have the heart and character of being in a marriage. With this kind of thinking, there would not be any marriages in the West – Europe and the USA, because they do not pay bride price.
But there is a high percentage of people who believe in marriage, in fact one of the founding beliefs of the Republican Party in the US, is in marriage as an institution.
I detest that kind of thinking, insinuating that all women are prostitutes. We enter marriages out of love and commitment. Marriages only break down in extreme circumstances.
What are your final words on the ruling?
I appeal to men, cultural and religious leaders to embrace the ruling. The outlawing of the refund of bride price is not only advantageous to women.
In many cases, it has been the male members of the woman’s family who have been taxed to refund the bride price – her father and brothers. So this ruling is more beneficial to the men than to the women.
The Constitution of Uganda is clear. We should embrace progressive cultural norms and reject those which are retrogressive. Let us embrace the outlawing of bride price refund.