How bride price fuels gender-based violence

Kambi ya Nyasa village chairman, Hassani Sogoi, addresses villagers during one of COUNSENUTH’s campaigns in Chemba District. PHOTO | DOREEN PARKSHARD

What you need to know:

  • Violence meted out to women has been attributed to bride price, which has been used as a scapegoat for its perpetuation.

The fight against gender-based violence (GBV) might not be realised soon despite the government and other stakeholders’ efforts to put a stop to the vice if no tentative actions are taken.

Violence meted out to women has been attributed to bride price, which has been used as a scapegoat for its perpetuation.

This was disclosed in Kambi ya Nyasa village in Chemba District.

Ideally, bride price, which comprises livestock and hard cash, is deemed to be a token of appreciation to the bride’s family for her upbringing.

This practice relegated the bride to the level of other chattels and has instead been taken to be the total purchase of the bride.

Hassan Sogoi, 68, the chairman of Kambi ya Nyasa village, narrates how he converted from being a perpetrator of domestic abuse to an ambassador of gender equity.

He raises awareness in his community about how domestic abuse is indeed a gross violation of human rights.

Having paid some ten heads of cattle for his 50-year-old wife, Sogoi reckoned that he had bought her, body and soul, and so he could treat her as he pleased.

"I viewed my wife as a servant simply because I had parted with hard cash and several heads of cattle as her bride price.”

He goes on to say that these outdated cultural practices had created a notion amongst men that women were chattels and could be treated as one pleased after having paid the dowry.

“These outdated customs can be blamed on the payment of bride price, as men believe that paying bride price for a woman is the same as buying her and that she is therefore required to do all the house chores. It has remained a perceived women’s duty to do all the household chores, work on the farm, and take care of the children and the family all by themselves.

He adds, "For instance, if I paid 100 goats as my wife's bride price, it would be similar to purchasing her the way one purchases an item. My only role is to ensure she bears children that will keep her busy rearing. This is the attitude we men have grown up with. This has been passed down for generations, but there is a need to change the status quo.”

Public awareness campaigns by the Centre for Counselling, Nutrition and Health Care (COUNSENUTH) are beginning to bear fruit, says Sogoi. These campaigns have seen a decline in acts of gender-based violence, and instead, they have been buttressing the point that men too have a role to play to protect women and improve their livelihoods, explains Sogoi. He further argues that bride price does not imply that the man has purchased and therefore owns the woman.

"Through the gender campaigns, I have changed significantly to become a better partner to my wife. I have since been helping my wife at home with household chores traditionally believed to be women's chores based on social stereotypes. If you find me washing my wife’s clothes, please don't go out speaking ill about me; instead, I ought to be praised for being a good husband," he jokingly tells Life & Style.

Sogoi says there’s no way we can progress in the 21st century by embracing outdated cultural practices. He has learnt that men's participation in household chores creates tranquility, harmony, and love in the family.

Sofia David, a resident of Kambi ya Nyasa village, tells Life & Style how she works in the field for long hours without any help from her husband, yet she is expected to do all the household chores at the same time.

"Sometimes I get so tired from working on the farm with no rest, knowing very well that household chores await me. When my children go to school, I have other must-do chores, such as going to the farm, fetching water, and cooking for my family. My husband tokes it upon himself to scold me, demanding food. I hope this gender awareness education puts some sense into him to treat me better and appreciate what I do in the house," laments Sophia.

She says that whenever she asks her husband to help with housework, he retorts to her that he paid a hefty bride price for her not to wander around the house doing nothing. She's then subjected to long hours of work without rest, and she is not supposed to complain.

Hamisi Mohamed holds his child during a gender and nutrition campaign in Kambi ya Nyasa village. PHOTO | DOREEN PARKSHARD

Filipina Leona, programme assistant at COUNSENUTH, says that domestic violence doesn't necessarily imply beatings and verbal abuse. Long hours of work and the inability to find time to rest are another form of domestic violence.

"Gender violence is not all about rape and verbal insults. When a woman is overworked, especially during pregnancy and postpartum, she is indeed being domestically abused, to say the least. There is a need for men to lend a hand to their wives as much as possible, especially during delicate times of pregnancy and childbirth.

Hamisi Mohamed, another resident of Kambi ya Nyasa village shares how he felt obligated to help his wife during pregnancy until childbirth by assisting in household chores, despite the tough times that demanded he juggle between work and home.

"I've been supportive of my wife from pregnancy util after childbirth. Some of our neighbours have been saying that I am either a whipped man or that I have been bewitched altogether. I do not regret attending the gender equity campaigns; I now know better.”

Hamisi says that having been orphaned at an early age and raised by a stepmother, it was only natural for him to help his wife during and after pregnancy.

“My first wife, with whom we had two children left me due to hardships. I then married my second wife, whom I love so much. We have been blessed with a newborn baby and she takes care of all my children and treats them as ifn they are her own."

Hamisi has vowed to take charge of his wife's health and that of their children as she recovers from childbirth.

Despite being teased by fellow men for being there whenever his wife needs help with household chores, Hamisi has never ceased to do so. He believes he owes no one an explanation for what he does for his wife.

Aisha Hassan, a 22-year-old mother of one who is expecting another applauds COUNSENUTH’s efforts to raise awareness about GBV in her village. She says the campaigns are a clarion call for men to abandon outdated behaviour and embrace a changed perception in relation to gender violence.

"Since my husband got this gender education, he has been of great help from the beginning of my pregnancy, accompanying me to the clinic for checkups. He has also been helping out with house chores I currently do not fetch water, cook, or do the cleaning."

Aisha explains how her husband's participation has given her time to relax and focus on her other childr, especially on their nutrition and growth, compared to the previous period when it was a major challenge to sustain all duties at once for a woman alone.

Chemba District’s development officer, Pamela Gango, says the participation of men in their women’s healthcare issues has effectively reduced incidences of gender violence.

She calls upon the community members to reach out to the gender desk at the Chemba Police Station and report any threats of domestic violence so that corrective measures can be taken.

"Women are not the only victims of domestic violence. A great number of men are suffering in silence, but they are hushed up for fear of stigmatisation by fellow men.” She adds; “Gender violence is a challenge for both women and men, and we need to work together to tackle it. It is important to let our differences slide past. We should join hands in community development."

Karim Kapama, programme assistant at COUNSENUTH explains that the organisation’s gender nutrition campaign aims at improving the health of pregnant and lactating mothers. A total of 10 villages in Chemba District have been targeted for the training programme through public awareness.

"Gender education has been a success so far thanks to the cooperation we have been receiving from the public, local government officials, and district councils, and the changes have been quite inspiring.

We expect this campaign to help control the malnutrition-induced stunted growth of children under the age of five."

According to him, his organisation has established robust interventions patterned to accomplish the goal of improving nutrition, gender equality, and fighting malnutrition in children under the age of five.

"It all starts with healthy relationships and support at the family level by minding the wellbeing of the expectant mother all the way from nutrition to health services. Members of the community are informed of its role in well-managed child growth and women's role in development and decision-making.

District Executive Director Siwema Juma says that residents of Chemba have taken deliberate actions to bring about changes in matters relating to gender equality, equity, and expected behavioural change. She calls upon COUNSENUTH to continue providing education to the public on the challenges arising from gender-based violence in relation to overall development.