By Mpho Kuhlmann
Most women dream of having a ring gleaming on their second left finger and a bride-price tag of many fat cattle to their name. The price in bride-price however is a four letter word that can set the bride and groom and bride’s families at each other throats because often times it covers a multitude of sins,from get rich quick schemes to domestic violence.
Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University of Botswana says “while customarily it is perceived as a token of appreciation, it is now a paradoxical token whereby you are charged what you should give as [a] gift. Therefore, it is not a gift, but a charge account. Due to local economic challenges, the bride price has become a moneymaking venture for some families, distorting the original significance and importance of the tradition. The practice of bride price is now demanded by families and fiercely negotiated. It has reduced young women to commodities and has made families see their daughters as a source of income. Some men believe the high charges that some parents demand during bogadi negotiations entitles them to own their wives.”
Parents who have invested a lot on their daughters feel the bride-price should be a fair return on their investment. Often times they take to demanding “absurd” amounts of money and other commodities from their in-laws. The custom, meant to establish ties between the families of the bride and groom, and symbolize the groom’s gesture of appreciation towards the bride’s family has become a huge source of income for many families, with every family member wanting a share of the bride price. For some potential grooms, the bride price can be so hard on the pocket that it puts them off the idea of tying the knot entirely. According to figures released by Statistics Botswana, the biggest dips in weddings in Botswana happened in 2009 and 2011 ÔÇô when the world was experiencing an economic downturn.
A House of Chiefs sitting of June 2012 agreed unanimously that bogadi should be regulated and standardized. Dikgosi complained the high bride price required of men has led to a high prevalence of cohabitation. The traditional leaders were commenting on a presentation made by Botswana Television Re A Nyalana technical programme advisor, David Morwaakgole, who told the house that cohabitation has increased at an alarming rate leading to a decline in the rate of marriage.
He said marriage is expensive, and people tend to compete rather than engage in traditional wedding ceremonies. He revealed that out of every four women in Botswana one is married, one lives in a stable cohabitation while two live in visiting cohabitation.
Pono Mokgosi, an assistant at Plascon Botswana says “Modern life has distorted the real meaning of bride price. The huge amounts of money parents ask for these days play a role in the domestic abuses that visit our marital homes.” This observation is borne out by a Gender Links and Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs women’s Affairs Department study: Gender based violence indicators Botswana which revealed that “21% of women and 38% of men agreed that if a man has paid bride price for his wife she must have sex when he wants it.” Another December 2013 baseline study tour report on gender-based violence conducted by Women’s Shelter also established the link between bogadi and gender based violence. “Because men pay bride price to the wife’s parents, they get the feeling that they have ‘bought’ the women and therefore tend to mistreat them, and think women have no right to refuse sex. There is a belief that marriage is all about sex and if the woman says no to his sexual advances, then she has wronged him,” said one of the participants.
Perhaps the most telling study was the “Associations between bride price stress and intimate partner violence amongst pregnant women in Timor-Leste” conducted two years ago.
The study pointed out that, “reducing violence against women is a global public health priority, particularly in low-income societies. However, more needs to be known about the causes of intimate partner violence (IPV) in these settings, including the stress of bride price obligations.” The report concluded that, “This is the first large consecutively sampled study to demonstrate a strong association between the stressors of bride price and poverty with IPV. Notably, bride price stress had the strongest association with IPV. Revealing this hitherto unrecognized factor of bride price stress may prove pivotal in guiding policy and interventions aimed at reducing IPV, and thereby improve the health and psychosocial status of women in low income settings.”