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Imagine your best friend is about to get married. It's one of those pre-wedding festivity days. Her house is all dolled up with relatives, food, and rich decorations around every corner. People rush in to get ready for the big day when all of a sudden...everyone gets the news that the wedding is being called off!

You wonder, "What could've gone wrong when everything seemed so perfect?"

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Turns out the groom's family had demanded a huge price for the marriage as the dowry — a price that the bride's family wasn't able to pay — hence the last-minute cancellation.

A woman saying,

This situation may seem unreal but women in South Asia and the Middle East aren't new to it. Many people claim it's because most Asian communities are patriarchal at large and extremely regressive in nature when it comes to women's rights.

But is that really so?

What is the dowry?

A dowry is a "gift" of significant financial value the bride and her family give to the future spouse and his family in matrimony. So basically everything from money, gold, land, cars, and property qualifies as a dowry gift or the parents "blessings" to the groom.

Two men riding in a car. One holds a large stack of cash.

Despite being banned in several countries such as India, Nepal, and Pakistan, the tradition of dowry is still illegally practiced. Some states have legalized dowry, causing severe distress to families with daughters.

Quiz

Which of the following is true for the practice of dowry?

Where did dowry come from?

Dowry has been a part of every major civilization in human history. Although most associate it predominantly with Indian culture, there's evidence of dowry practices in ancient Greece, Babylon, and even Rome.

Flaticon Icon In Europe, the dowry custom was highly common. It was legal in many places for the groom to demand funds for the marriage to take place. However, the practice eventually became a thing of the past with industrialization and the emergence of stabilizing national economies.

So how does it still exist?

The tradition of dowry became more prevalent with the European colonization of Asia and Africa.

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Prior to the amendments in Indian inheritance laws by the British Raj, women were either offered their share in the family inheritance or were offered compensation goods upon marriage as a security token of their financial independence after the alliance.

However, the British changed the inheritance laws that made property credible and instead passed laws that stated the land could now pass down to the male heirs only.

This is ironic because it was the same people who had mocked the Asians for little or no women's rights charters when they first arrived in India!

A woman clapping sarcastically

Are women under threat of dowry?

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Contrary to the happy-go-lucky vibes that some brides in the West enjoy, many women in South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa feel threatened by dowry practices, primarily because weddings come along the baggage to "provide".

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Despite women's empowerment efforts in the education and job sector, dowry remains a fundamental societal ill that threatens to corrode the family structure.

Here's why:

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It pushes families into financial debt.

In the haste to feel socially respectable, families often put in a lot of money preparing for the "perfect dowry", regardless of their financial status. Debts and loans become inherent and hard to pay-off once the wedding is over, sending families into a financial turmoil.

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It encourages unnecessary expectations.

A willful exchange of gifts at a wedding is sweet but it often sends the wrong message. The in-laws begin to assume it's their inevitable right and a friendly gift exchange soon accelerates into a distressing "demands" list with no probable end.

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It increases gender discrimination.

Since the dowry payment and tradition are only expected from the "bride's side", the pressure is often one-sided. Most brides are led to believe that the family suffers from economic loss because of them being a woman, consequently increasing social gender bias in the community.

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It hinders a girl's education.

Parents prefer saving up heaps of money for a daughter's dowry instead of investing it in the girl's education, thinking that a girl will eventually leave the house after matrimony, making it difficult for the invested money to be recouped back to the parents later in life.

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It increases female infanticide.

Since dowries have become a custom, female births have become a financial burden on families with low incomes. Some parents prefer aborting or even killing a child if it turns out to be a girl, out of the dowry fear.

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It can lead to violence or even murders.

Women are often ill-treated and looked down upon as mere dowry providers by most husbands and their families. Failure to do so results in them being physically abused, tortured, and even killed in extreme cases.

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This Byte has been authored by

SK

Saba Khalid

Founder & CEO at Aurat Raaj

IA

Irum Ansari

Social & Public Policy Researcher