Dowry in Congo Objectifies Women
By DESIRE MAPALA
In my country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, a bride is seen as merchandise or an object.
That’s because a suitor typically pays dowry to his future in-laws: cash and goods, such as clothes for the bride’s parents, cows, goats, beverages, blankets, kitchen utensils, refrigerators, radios, and televisions.
Some people call it a “sale.”
Dowry amounts are rising, yet unemployment is above 60%, so very few men can afford it.
The high price leads to objectifying women, who are seen as property.
One married woman I know of asked her husband why he came home so late. He told her,
I bought you with my money, you are my property and have no right to ask me questions like that. All you need to do is whatever I tell you. You have nowhere to go since your family has no money to get you back.
With this control, these husbands discourage their wives from seeing friends or family, or going to work or school. These men often seem to become abusers.
Since he has paid so much to get a wife he blames her for everything, insults her family and threatens to hurt her or the children. He can hit, punch, slap, kick, or bite her in the name of “love.” To him, other men are a threat and he accuses his wife of flirting with everyone in the neighborhood. The irony is that he is the one who cheats. Husbands are allowed to have sex with others, woman are not.
Married women do housework from sunrise to sunset and are exhausted. Despite this, they cannot say “no” to their husbands when asked for sex. Their husbands rape them and say, “This is why you are here.” Even her own family would condemn her for saying “no.”
That is the life many women in Congo are living. But they can’t denounce or report it for fear of being repudiated.
We must help women in my country, and everywhere, when they are abused. In Congo a traditional, small dowry could be a symbol of love and engagement. Not a business where the future bride is put on sale.
As a man I see the harm, and I seek to help everyone, including women, to open their minds and question a system that so hurts our women and children.
This was written by one of my students, Who gave me permission to post it.
Posted on December 18, 2015, in feminism, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged Bride Price, Congo, Dowry, feminism, sexism, violence against women, women. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.
Men in alot of countries that have alot of arranged marriages, act the same way these men have. Women are sold like objects and to men they are only baby-makers and housekeepers. Men are supposed to be the bosses and in charge, making sure everybody is doing exactly what he wants them to do. I think its stupid women are human beings just as men. Although in countries like the congo alot of families are quite poor. And so when dowrys are paid, however these women are treated, it does not matter because they have already been purchased, she is off their hands. basically it seems that money rules everything, people’s feelings, and their safe-being
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
I don’t identify with any culture as I believe in a world where humans have just one culture, one nation and so on, but, given that caveat, Indian culture is what I grew up with and am highly familiar with. There the dowry problem is the exact opposite: the bride’s family pays a price to the groom’s family, and this is one of the few customs common across the country. The net result is the exact opposite of what is described here. Women are seen as a burden even by middle-class families and fetuses are often aborted if they are female. Marriages get called off because of insufficient dowry. The practice does give some power to a wife as she can ask for the dowry back on a divorce, and the practice itself is illegal, and families with the means can pursue court cases. The double standard on cheating and so on still applies. However I think we again have a question of intersectionality here. In poor nations it is difficult to get to gender equality. The oppression of women cannot be seen in isolation from the poverty and misery of these societies in general; where men do not have enough they are unlikely to have the long-term vision needed to see the good points of female empowerment. Improving living standards for all has to be integral to any focus on gender equality in developing countries.
I was encouraged by the decision of the supreme court in Uganda this year–yes, I know Uganda is not DRCongo–that the bride price would be nonrefundable, so that women divorcing abusive husbands would not be required or their family required, to return the bride price. Of course, this decision was short of outlawing the bride price practice altogether, but it was a step in the right direction.
Hopefully Congo can take a cue from Uganda and at least take a small step forward, improving the lives of many women.
Terrible customs indeed…long ago such system of infantilizing women and treating them as property is still prevailed not only in Congo, but in many other parts of India. Glad that your student at least has raised his voice…
I hope that as we critique the practice, things will change.
I hope so, too….
Horrible that women are considered property. I wonder are things starting to change in Congo?
Desire wrote this a while ago and I’m just getting around to posting it. I’ll try to email him this link, and hopefully he can answer your question. I just tried to Google and couldn’t find the answer to your question. Maybe I could if I worked a little harder.
“Horrible that women are considered as property”…yes, it’s still happening now in Congo; right now that I’m writing this, now that you’re reading this reply. Every week in Congo there’s a “sale” somewhere; an organized sale where the bride is given to marriage to the groom after paying a huge amount of the dowry determined by the bride’s family in law as described in this article. It’s a system that stems from a patriarchal society where as you and I know males play “king’s role”-commander in chief, and females are objectified. So sad that it’s happening that way in this century…
Can we bring change? Of course yes, with your/my help by condemning, denouncing such a dreadful system; we can stop it from arising.
Thanks for updating us on this.
I’m so glad to help spread the word.
I hope things change no one, woman or man should be “property” thanks for sharing this with us.