The real cost of bride price
Bride price is a sum of money or quantity of goods given to a bride’s family by that of the groom. In many parts of Nigeria most notably the South-East, bride price must be paid first in order for the couple to get permission to marry in church or in other civil ceremonies, or the marriage is not considered valid by the bride’s family.
Depending on the wealth of the groom he and his family can enter into a non written contract with the bride’s family, in which he pays upfront or promises to pay what he owes within a specified period of time. While Western white weddings are gaining traction in Nigerian society, traditional weddings, which involve the paying of bride price are still widespread and are drawing criticism.
Popular feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been an outspoken critic of bride price “I think we should get rid of the whole idea of money in marriage, we are not selling anybody.”
The concept behind bride price, that women are commodities to be bought and sold, is rooted in patriarchal beliefs. In practices, where a bride price is paid, it is common for the husband to believe that by paying the bride price, he now owns his wife. This licenses marital rape and domestic abuse as the wife is seen as the husband’s “property.”
In rural areas, in the event of divorce, women are often forced to pay back the totality of their bride price. As most women have little financial agency, they can’t afford the divorce and are often trapped in abusive and detrimental marriages.
But bride price isn’t just harmful to women. With rising unemployability and inflation most young men are unable to pay the sometimes exorbitant fees, that can go as high as N250,000 and cover livestock, property and servants. Most men turn to loans or installment payments that are passed onto their families in the event of their death as a “debt of honour” trapping their families and themselves in a never ending cycle of debt.
Bride price is practiced all over Nigeria with differing variations. Ostensibly this grants women financial independence of their own, especially in Northern Nigeria where a majority of women are uneducated home keepers mostly unable to fend for themselves. However most women are denied access to the money. It’s collected by male relatives who delegate it without their consent. Even if the money is supplied directly to them, archaic laws in villages prevent women from owning property and purchasing assets, limiting their agency. The arguments to continue bride price all focus on cultural preservation. But can we keep a practice that demeans the participants of the culture we’re trying to protect?
Despite the fact that women currently have more rights than their predecessors, the practice isn’t entirely symbolic, as in rural areas it still retains its original function. Rural Nigerian women still suffer under a lack of civil liberties, with higher rates of gender based violence due to misogynistic social practices just like this one. Widows are still forced to drink their husband’s corpse water to prove they didn’t kill them, young girls still have their genitals mutilated and women are still treated like spare parts to be used and thrown away.
Nigeria has a beautiful ancient culture we celebrate every day with our language, emotions and interpersonal relationships. Why can’t we let go of the ones that harm half of our society?
When it comes to cultural cost it seems Nigerian women always pay the price.