In Uganda—as in many other countries such as China, India, and Nigeria—it is customary for the groom to give money or property to the bride’s family as a token of goodwill before marriage. This dowry is called a bride price in Uganda. But what happens if you get divorced?
Uganda’s highest court has now ruled that it is unconstitutional for men to ask for a refund on the bride price upon divorce in a “customary marriage,” which is one takes place under traditional law. The court ruled that refunding bride prices infringes on the rights of women to divorce, instead making it seem as if they are things to be bought and sold:
It was the MIFUMI Project—a women’s rights organization based in Uganda—that brought the case before the court. The organization argued that allowing men to ask for a mandatory refund from the bride’s family implies that women are property, and that women in abusive relationships seeking a divorce are likely to be trapped if they have no funds to pay back the bride price.
It is not the first time that MIFUMI has raised the custom of the bride price before Uganda’s courts. The organization first petitioned the courts on the practice of the bride price in 2007, challenging the constitutionality of the practice. MIFUMI argued that a bride price as a condition for a customary marriage undermines the dignity of women, perpetuates gender inequality, and erodes their right to consent freely to marriage.
In March 2010, Uganda’s Supreme Court upheld the practice, saying the bride price was protected in the country’s constitution.