When the Constitutional Court recently rejected a petition to abolish bride price in Uganda, the Mifumi Project the lead petitioners, felt that the decision was a big blow to efforts to fight domestic violence in Uganda.
They have now reportedly lodged an appeal in the Supreme Court.
The Tororo-based lobby group had asked the court to abolish bride price because it ‘degrades the woman’ and is the principle cause of abuse against women by their husbands.
However, with a 4-1 majority decision, the Constitutional Court ruled that the petitioners had not brought forward any empirical evidence to prove that there is a relation between bride price and domestic violence.
Even more interesting was the fact that of the five judges, only Justice Amos Twinomujuni – a man – agreed with the petitioners.
The other four, who included three women – Justice Laetitia Kikonyogo, (also the Deputy Chief Justice of Uganda), Justice Alice Mpagi Bahigeine and Justice Constance Byamugisha – disagreed, as did Jutice Steven Kavuma.
Now, why did virtually all the women on the Bench disagree with their fellow women who had petitioned against the practice? This question is pertinent because some women say Uganda is “a patriarchal society,” which can never do anything to outlaw bride price because it favours men.
The women Justices refused to share their colleague’s view “that bride price subjects a woman to slavery and servitude, making it impossible for her to move out of an abusive marriage long after it has irretrievably broken down.”
Instead, the Justices argued that bride price was positive because it is a gesture of appreciation to the bride’s parents.
They further argued – again rather correctly in my view – that the Court cannot say with certainty that bride price should be unconstitutional on the grounds of being a source of abuse in homes, because there are varied causes of spousal abuse.
Why did the petitioners fail to produce an affidavit from a victim of domestic violence? Probably if they had brought a witness who had been subjected to abuse by a husband because he paid pride price for her, may be the outcome would have been different.
They should have produced a father or mother who refused his/her daughter to leave an abusive marriage because they could not refund the dowry paid by her abusive husband.
Also, what some of the petitioners were oblivious of; was the fact that some of them are probably married and their husbands probably paid some form of bride price on their kwanjula (introduction) or kuhinjira or whatever the traditional functions are called.
Now, are they saying that their husbands do mistreat them also because they paid pride price for them? Again, there are many other women for whom no bride price has ever been paid (e.g those co-habiting), yet they are being battered day and night. What then is to blame for this situation?
Then, there are also many other women for whom lots of cows were given as bride price but they have been living with their husbands in perpetual earthly bliss for several decades!
Conversely, there are also many men who are suffering under the severe battering of their wives every day. Does it mean that the abusive wives paid bride price for those husbands? What about countries like USA where no bride price is paid yet the incidence of husbands abusing their wives is the order of the day?
Implicitly, that means bride price is not entirely to blame for domestic violence. What will obviously curb domestic violence the full implementation of the Domestic Violence Act, which has now become law.
Finally, the court said in the lead ruling that the Constitution prohibits forceful marriage unions and stipulates that there has to be a voluntary and mutual agreement between a woman and a man before they get married.
In other words, no woman can be forced to get married to any man, so if she feels that she does not want to be ‘bought off like a piece of property,’ she is completely free to opt out of the marriage arrangements.
Of course many people were not surprised by the ruling because there was no way a court of law could impose a blanket ban on bride price and in the process annihilate the obviously harmless identity and dignity of the many ethnic groups that practice it.
I wish to therefore think that the Supreme Court appeal by Mifumi Project is somehow ill-advised and absolutely unneccessary.
If only the time being spent, and the monies to be paid as costs of the suit, would be put to some more productive use such as the betterment of the lot of our poverty-stricken women across the country!