Wives not cows: Uganda dowry fuels domestic violence

Wives not cows: Uganda dowry fuels domestic violence
Rose Akurut, a 26 year-old mother of five, sits outside her father’s family home in Bukedea district on September 25, 2014, after she was chased away by her husband who is now demanding a refund of the bride price he paid for Rose.

BUKEDEA, Uganda - When Ugandan farmer's daughter Rose Akurut became engaged to a man from a village far from her own, her parents could not be more thrilled.

But the dowry she would bring - cows, goats and cash - soured the marriage and brought dark clouds over the partnership, a story repeated by many others in Uganda.

"I was very, very happy. Now I'd also benefit, the cows would come," said her mother Anna Amiti, 50, referring to the bride price or dowry, enshrined in Ugandan law, that the family received from their son-in-law.

"We told him, 'show us your strength, so that you actually can take care of her,'" added her father John Okodel, 66.

He had given his wife's family nine cows when they married decades ago, in the eastern Ugandan region of Bukedea, some 240 kilometres (150 miles) east of the capital.

So for their daughter's dowry, Amiti and Okodel requested six cows, four goats and 400,000 Uganda shillings (150 dollars, 120 euros) in exchange for their daughter's hand in marriage.

After some bargaining, they received four cows, four goats and 200,000 shillings (75 dollars, 60 euros). Cattle can cost as much as several hundred dollars, the equivalent to months of work for an average Ugandan.

In Uganda, as in many other African nations, the custom of the groom or his family paying a sum of money or property to the parents of the bride upon a marriage has long been considered a cultural "appreciation".

Some groups in Uganda also gift banana wine, traditional dress, meat, and even vegetables and paraffin.

But in recent years the practice has turned marriage into a "business", forcing girls as young as 14 to wed, fuelling and "trapping" women in violent relationships and financially crippling men, according to local women's rights group Mifumi.

Mifumi have launched a landmark case seeking to have the practice declared optional by a court.

'Contributes to violence'

Six months after they married, Akurut's husband began beating her.

As he repeatedly battered his wife, causing blood to ooze from her ears and leaving her with permanent damage, he would yell "my cows" in the local language.

"I used to think I would have to endure this - because after all the dowry was paid - but it reached a level I could no longer endure," recalled Akurut, 26, who eventually fled back to her parent's home with her three daughters and two sons.

According to research conducted by Mifumi, at least 84 per cent of Ugandans believed there was a direct connection between domestic violence and the bride price.

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