Women as Property in Uganda

Our four young Pathfinders are still in Uganda at the Kasese Humanist Primary School and they are learning a great deal about the cultural differences between that country and the United States. After finding out that men are not allowed to pour water or serve food to women, they learned how dowries operate in that country:

“But what about dowries? Do men pay the dowries there?”

Wendy and I answered that no, men do not pay dowries in the United States, and that our fathers would probably reject a dowry if one was offered.

From what the women told us, there aren’t any arranged marriages in Uganda; the women and men choose each other. Shortly after deciding that they should marry, the fiance meets the parents and asks for a price.The man returns with the payment at a second meeting, and then the couple is married shortly afterwards.

The wife then spends the rest of her life paying her husband back for her dowry.

One of the women said that there must be a lot more love between spouses in the United States. She said that the dowry and paying the dowry back erases the love that was once there.

I think the women realized that dowries are unfair, but I don’t think they could imagine a society where dowries don’t exist.

And this is how change happens. Not because Michelle and Wendy made powerful arguments against such a manifestly unjust and sexist system, but merely because the women they were talking to realized that it doesn’t have to be that way, that there are places where it is different.

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  • kantalope

    Maybe someone can help – quick google doesn’t come up with much on this particular kind of dower practice – maybe I’m not hitting the right key words?

    I get the Indian kind…females are worthless so girl’s parents need to cough up some dough so someone will take her off their hands….but here the women seem to have some kind of value, in that goods are exchanged for her. But then she has to work hard enough in the house to pay back the price of a goat? Are children subtracted from the tab? Like robber barons of old is her ongoing upkeep added to the tab? Who keeps the ledger? If the woman is industrious can she pay back the money early and then tell the man to take a hike?

  • Pen

    I believe this is technically called a bride price and the rationale behind it is not quite as kantalope states. In the Indian dowry style, the rationale is the the bride brings some wealth into the marriage, in Europe we used to have a similar tradition where the dowry was essentially the woman’s inheritance which she received when she married. In practice both bride and dowry effectively become the property of the husband and his family.

    In many African societies, a bridegroom is expected to compensate the bride’s parents for everything they are losing when she leaves their home (bride price). Sure, in our eyes, it looks like ‘buying a woman’ and in practice it may be pretty much that. However, the reality of life in past African societies (and perhaps sometimes today) is that everybody’s contribution in labour is valuable of not essential to the support of the family. The bride is transferring her contribution in labour from one family to another and that is what is expected to be compensated.

  • Pen

    Sorry about the terrible spelling of that comment. It’s been a long day.

  • Alverant

    So what if the father gave the dowry to his daughter to give to her husband. The money goes around back to the original owner making the whole thing silly.

  • exdrone

    no, men do not pay dowries in the United States

    But the far right could really get into it. It is based on heterosexual marriage, the commoditization of women and the free market.