IF you are a woman and you have ever suffered domestic violence in relation to the bride price, the recent court ruling rejecting its abolition must be awful news. Last week, the Constitutional Court rejected a petition to abolish bride price in Uganda.
The petitioners of a Tororo-based lobby group, Mifumi project, who were represented by 13 people, including a Roman Catholic priest, had asked the court to abolish bride price, arguing that it was degrading and caused domestic violence.
The petitioners claim women are the biggest losers. According to Turner Atiku, the executive director of Mifumi, the court’s decision was a disappointment and implies that women will continue suffering at the hands of men.
But she was quick to add: “We may have lost the battle but not the war. We are definitely going to appeal to the Supreme Court.” Mifumi is an NGO which supports the needs of and promotes protection of women and children. The aim of the petition was to liberate women from the chains that they allegedly get into as a result of bride price.
Atiku says Mifumi is in the process of submitting its notice of appeal, which she hopes will be heard before the end of this year. Although court said the petitioners did not bring any scientific evidence to prove the connection between bride price and domestic violence, Atiku says several articles regarding bride price within the Constitution are unfair to women.
She cites articles like refunding bride price in case of a divorce and the refusal to bury a woman at her parents’ burial ground if the man did not pay bride price. “Court felt those articles cannot be the basis for abolition of bride price,” Atiku says, adding that Mifumi is looking at legislation where articles in the Constitution regarding bride price that are unfair to women can be outlawed.
Statistics from the Uganda Law Reform Commission 2007 report reveal that 78% of women continue to experience domestic violence annually. According to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS) of 2006, more than 60% of women aged 15-49 years experienced physical violence, 39% experienced sexual violence, and 16% experienced violence during pregnancy. The report adds that 68% of ever-married women in Uganda have experienced domestic violence.
With such findings, women activists feel cheated with the recent ruling. The Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention (CEDOVIP) executive director, Tina Musuya, says they are not satisfied with the ruling.
“If we still have mandatory bride price, it clearly means men and women are not equal as human beings. Bride price devalues women and reduces them to objects of trade,” she points out.
“Bride price compromises a woman’s freedom and decision-making in her own home. Every time she tries to take a decision, the man and his family will overrule her. This increases her vulnerability to violence and other forms of abuse,” Musuya stresses.
In support of the petition
Judge Amos Twinomujuni argues that the practice of bride price violates all the constitutional provisions to give protection to women.
He also notes that the practice no longer serves any useful purpose in society. “It has now become purely commercialised, highly exploitive and humiliating to women.”
He notes that the practice of demanding repayment of bride price when a woman opts out of an abusive marriage is unconstitutional and dehumanises the woman. “It portrays her as a chattel that can be sold in a market and subjects her to potential humiliation, cruelty and torture,” the judge points out.
He compares bride price to a form of slavery. “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. It is high time the custom is abolished and the woman set free.”
New Vision – 5th April 2010
By Chris Kiwawulo