Uganda Outlaws ‘Bride Price’ Refund, Still Lets Suitors Trade Cattle for Women

Women stuck in abusive marriages can leave without fear of financial repercussions.

Rose Akurut, a 26 year-old mother of five, was chased away by her husband, who is now demanding a refund of the bride price he paid. (Photo: Isaac Kasamani/Getty Images)

Aug 6, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Jennifer Alupot was forced to breast-feed her husband’s puppies every time she gave birth to a child. She did so while her own child suffered and eventually died, likely owing to rabies from the dogs. Her husband’s reasoning: bride price, a common custom in which a groom provides payment for a wife. He’d given Alupot’s family his cattle to validate their marriage, and in turn, she had to provide for his hunting dogs.

Alupot’s abuse made headlines in Uganda in 2009 after she escaped her husband’s clutches and an aid organization helped her press domestic abuse charges. Although the grotesque details of her situation are rare, spousal abuse justified by the bride price is not. If a Ugandan woman wanted to leave an abusive or unhappy marriage, she was required to pay back the dowry the man had used to secure the nuptials. Until now.

Uganda’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the custom of repaying the bride price after a marriage fails or ends is unconstitutional and should be banned.

“The refund of bride price connotes that a woman is on loan. This compromises the dignity of a woman,” said Chief Justice Bart Katureebe during Thursday’s ruling, according to a tweet from Ugandan women’s rights organization Mifumi. The court did not find the practice of bride price itself unconstitutional.

Advocates at Mifumi brought the case to end bride price refunds to court back in 2007 but hoped to outlaw practice altogether, according to BBC News.

Mifumi argued that bride price treats women like objects and perpetuates gender inequality and domestic abuse. A 2009 study conducted by the organization found that 99 percent of Ugandan women who had experienced domestic violence believed that bride price paid a role in their abuse. Pressure on women’s families to repay cattle or money forced women to stay in dangerous situations. In many rural, impoverished areas, women and girls were married off to secure those resources in the first place. These financial trades can lead to forced and child marriage.

Despite the negative ramifications on women’s rights, many Ugandans see bride price as a valuable part of their culture. Presenting gifts to a family before marriage can signify appreciation from the groom and respect for the bride’s family. Experts at Mifumi note that change will be slow to come as equality is incorporated into tradition.

In the meantime, Mifumi advocates are pleased with the high court’s decision. “This is a momentous occasion,” Evelyn Schiller, a Mifumi spokesperson, told BBC News. “This ruling will aid the fight against women and girls’ rights abuses.”