There is a link between bride price and HIV/Aids Glyn Turner
Sex is a major component of bride price. Under customary law, the man purchases the unlimited sexual services of the woman. Perhaps to call married women, sex slaves, would be rather extreme but certainly the power associated with the payment of bride price is tangible and particularly in the marital bed.
The payment of bride price can be compared to the purchase of a woman. After the deal has been done, then she is mine and within no reason I can do with her what I want. Sex is at my convenience. Another child even if a risk to the wife’s health, well it is my right. I have paid the price and thus should expect all the benefits. The power is mine as the man.
This harmful cultural practice has been linked to many problems including early marriages, domestic violence, limited girl child education, unwanted widow inheritance and others but the topic for today is the most deadly consequence of bride price, that being HIV and Aids.
The power associated with bride wealth should not be underestimated. Dr Anthony Okoth, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Mulago Hospital, says “Bride price makes marriages irreversible including conjugal rights which is a very dangerous situation and these can be exploited.”
Men have more say on sexual relations when bride price has been paid. The wife cannot challenge the status quo even if she knows (or suspects) that the husband is HIV positive. Polygamy has been identified as one of the high-risk practices that perpetuate HIV transmission. Thus women are likely to find themselves hooked to risky relationships, in which their power to control their bodies is expressly denied by tradition.
In Botswana, it has been reported that one woman was severely beaten, and suffered rape when she suggested condom use, which saw the man retorting: “I paid lobola (bride price) in full, and no cow was deducted to compensate for the use of condoms.”
It is well known that bride wealth causes early marriage of the girl-child. Often this is by wealthy, experienced, sometimes HIV positive men. Early marriage of course means early involvement in sexual intercourse.
In ground-breaking research titled, Bride Price, Poverty and Domestic Violence in Uganda by Prof. Gill Hague and Dr Ravi Thiara, it was confirmed that bride price has strong links to HIV.
The research showed that 61 per cent of those interviewed felt that bride price had mainly negative effects. The research highlighted that the increased spread of HIV/Aids in villages was through widow inheritance and the parents of a girl were more interested in a good bride price rather than protecting her health.
The founder of Kadama Widows Association, Mary Mosinghi, says if a woman didn’t think she was paid for she would have the confidence to question some of the things she has in the relationship and stand up for her rights.
Sadly, if you are reading this, you are likely to be better educated, earning more than $1 a day and have more power than the poor rural woman largely affected by bride price. We have a duty to speak out against cultural practices that aggravate HIV/Aids.
Mr Turner is founding director of MIFUMI, an NGO Protecting women and children from violence and abuse
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