International Conference on Bride Price and Development
Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda
February 16th – 18th, 2004, Kampala, Uganda
This conference is sponsored by the generous support of GTZ – the German
Technical Co-operation on behalf of the German Government.
Background to the Conference on bride price
On 22nd December 2001, the people of Tororo, Uganda held a referendum on the
reform of bride price, following a two-year campaign process organized by the MIFUMI
project. The question was whether bride price should become a non-refundable gift.
The referendum was won with 60% in favour of reform. The need for this intervention
arose out of our work with women who highlighted the fact that bride price is a major
contributing factor to domestic violence and poverty.
Mifumi is leading women's rights and development agency with a large constituency of
grassroots women’s organisations. Our mission is to work with rural based communities
to reduce the burden of poverty. To this end, we run integrated projects in the fields of
gender violence, education, healthcare and economic self-sufficiency. Our gender
violence intervention programme encompasses provision of information, legal advice
and support services, protection of women through the criminal justice system, and the
prevention of violence through public education and work with young people.
Why bride price?
The issue of bride price and women’s rights has been debated in Uganda mainly in t he
academic forum. In 1960, a national conference on women’s rights discussed the issue
of bride price and its conclusions, contained in the Kalema report, were that bride price
relegated women to “an article of trade, to be bought or sold”.
The work of gender activists, especially through the women’s world conferences since
1975 in Mexico, helped to bring women’s rights issues to the fore, including gender
based violence. More recently, a seminar on bride price was conducted in Kampala,
Uganda supported by the UNFPA, following various research studies (see UNFPA, 1996:
Report on Round Table on the UNFPA initiative on Bride wealth). These sporadic forays
into the question of bride price have acted like a feeble light that has nevertheless
allowed a glimmer of hope to inspire gender activists in the fight for social justice.
What marked the Mifumi Projects work on this subject from the above is that while the
above were largely limited to academic discussion, the MIFUMI Project campaign and
referendum transported the issue of bride price to the public domain and placed it under
the harsh glare of women’s rights and gender inequality. The media attention that the
referendum received and resulting public debate over the public and private divide and
the relativism of culture over human rights, allowed other aspects of injustices related to
bride price that had not been the immediate focus of our campaign, to burst forth like
bubbles on stormy waters; namely, issues relating to poverty, child abuse and rights
and women’s land and health rights. The issue of the refund of bride price was the
centrifugal force that united men, women, the youth and the media, in the bid to reform
Why we did it
It became obvious then, that bride price, hitherto a marginalized discussion, was
actually a chronic problem in the daily lives of the poor and the marginalized,
particularly grassroots women and children. In our research it was apparent that the
injustices occasioned by the practice were not immediately obvious to the social elite
who largely viewed bride price through the positive lens of cultural values and a peoples
sense of identity.
Research and activism against a parallel practice – that of dowry in India, led to the
criminalisation and outlawing of the practice, which did not however translate to
changes in the traditional practice that continues to jeopardize women’s lives. Yet while
dowry has received notable international attention, akin to female genital mutilation, as
a human rights violation from international bodies and governments (See UNICEF,
House of Common reports), bride price remains a hazy topic lurking behind a smoke
screen of culture and marriage rituals in the deep forests of Africa.
What we intend now
The context of MIFUMI’S campaign against bride price is its centrality in domestic
violence both as cause and effect; particularly the tenet that a woman cannot leave an
abusive relationship because she cannot afford to refund the bride price. Having thus
brought bride price to the public domain, and received a public verdict for its reform,
that the action gathers pace and momentum. This conference aims therefore not to
debate the verdict but to identify strategies and homework to abolish or reform the
practice of bride price in Africa. This conference is happening now because the time is
not only right but nigh. Grassroots organisations and individuals are asking, “What next
after the referendum – have we come so far only to stop short of the Golden Fleece?”
Indeed they are right to push for reform in the law, because the referendum was the
first time in the history of Uganda (and perhaps not since the Women’s Suffrage) that
grassroots people, and women particularly, forced a social issue to the ballot. Such
an achievement deserves to be given the platform to push forward.
In Uganda the Domestic Relations Bill is undergoing its passage through parliament
amidst much controversy and debate. Sticky issues are land rights for women, polygamy
and bride price. The legal system of Uganda disempowers women, making it difficult
for them to exercise control over their lives. Uganda like most African countries has a
dual system of law: customary and formal or statutory law. In both countries, formal
law preempts customary law. However, the principles of the formal law, largely
inherited from the European colonial powers, are unknown or inaccessible to the vast
majority of women, whose rights are defined by local custom. A central feature of both
systems of law is the subordinate status of women. This subordination is most apparent
in marriage and is underscored by the tradition of bride price (whereby a man and his
relatives pay the family of the prospective bride in order to marry her). This practice
reinforces the notion that a husband has purchased his wife’s sexual services, her
labour, and her perpetual obedience and consent. It allows a man to treat a woman
as he pleases, that is why although domestic violence is common and widespread, it has
traditionally been perceived as a private problem, beyond the scope of state
responsibility. Indeed, in the past, husbands have had the legal right to punish or even
kill their wives. Only gradually, changing social attitudes and increased reporting have
propelled the problem into the public eye.
What has changed since the campaign
Since the referendum, the Mifumi project has seen changes in attitudes of the people of
the region about bride price. Public debate through national papers has increased; we
have seen parents, especially widows, change their practice of bride price to marriage
gifts without an obligation for refund, we have seen resistance to the refund of bride
price by men – fathers or brothers who signed for and received the payment.
However there are still many challenges as men continue to be jailed for failing or
refusing to refund bride price. In Mifumi, in one year alone, we have recorded 300
incidents of bride price related cases of domestic violence.
In the sexual and reproductive health sphere for instance violation of women’s rights
make them especially vulnerable to HIV/AIDS in Africa. Although some international
health experts are beginning to recognise the link between women’s rights and HIV
infection, the subject is conspicuously absent from HIV-prevention campaigns. Most
public health practitioners see themselves as health engineers and consider human
rights to be beyond the scope of their profession. Internationally, HIV campaign
programmes focus on disseminating information as a crucial first step in ultimately
changing the behaviour of individuals. However, if people cannot change their
behaviour because they lack the means to control their own destinies, information
dissemination wastes time and resources (Steiner, H and Alston, P, 1996). Women’s
sexual availability is underscored by the practice of bride price.
Feel Free Africa
We saw the launching, in May 2002, of the Africa Feel Free network of individuals and
organisations committed to the mission of pushing for the reform of bride price and
taking it to regional and international law making bodies. It is clear that the issue of
bride price has reached a turning curve and there can be no turning back to a practice
that is now highly commercialized, having lost all its cultural values of protecting
women. This conference intends to start a process that will capture the existing
momentum to propel the issue of bride price into the public domain and effect its
reform in Africa.
ABOUT THE CONFERENCE
It is internationally recognised that global poverty reduction cannot be reached without
the global commitment to the achievement of gender equality, universal primary
education and improvement in the quality of life both as a right and a fundamental
necessity for progress towards development targets (ICPD, MDG). In part this depends
on transforming complex political and socio-cultural factors related to poverty and the
status of women, which in turn affects their families and communities.
The International Conference on Bride Price and Development hopes to bring together
experts in the fields of harmful socio-cultural practices which contribute to gender
violence and inequality, experts on reproductive health and rights, activists on the rights
of women and children, politicians and other stakeholders from Governments,
intergovernmental agencies, academia, the media, civil society organisations and
The purpose is to develop a programme of action to reduce or remove the significance
of bride price as a factor contributing to violence and gender inequality, hindering the
improvement in the quality of life of families and the realisation of the rights of children
in the countries where it is practiced.
To present evidence and expert opinion on the intersection between bride price and
identified socio-cultural practices, and human rights violation, poverty and gender
To provide a platform for sharing experiences and innovative approaches across the
globe on tackling bride price and other harmful cultural practices.
To bring together groups and individuals from countries affected by the practice, and
representatives from governments, intergovernmental bodies and civil society, to
adopt a declaration of action for the reform or removal of bride price.
Coalition and action to safeguard the child and the family: The Kampala
declaration on bride price and development.
The conference will consist of plenary sessions, plenary feedback sessions and
workshops/breakaway group discussions to debate and develop strategies for action.
The conference will be held on the spacious grounds of Makerere University Campus at
the newly constructed computer centre complex, complete with conference facilities.
International delegates will be accommodated on the university grounds. Conference
places are limited so early booking is advisable.
The conference will be conducted mainly in English but translation into French will be
Background on bride price
The institution of bride price, dowry and other related marriage gifts constitute some of
the major harmful traditional practices that contribute to the subordinate status of
women, undermining their rights and the rights of their families, and communities,
leading to a greater tolerance of gender violence and contributing to violent conflict,
HIV/AIDS, poverty and disability.
Although the institution of bride price in Africa has far-reaching, health, economic, social
and, human rights and legal implications in the countries where it is practiced, there is
much silence in the way of bringing it to the forefront of public debate both as an issue
whose values constitute a direct violation of human dignity and freedom, and whose
social practice is a hindrance to the enjoyment of human rights.
In Africa women are literally "bought" and "sold" through the institution of bride price.
In a typical African setting, bride price consists of a contract where the groom pays
material items or money to the bride's father in exchange for the bride, her labour and
reproductive capacity. If the bride or wife wants to divorce, the material items or money
paid to the bride /wife's father must be returned to the husband. If the wife's family
is unable to pay the husband, the wife cannot get a divorce and is condemned to live in
an unhappy and sometimes fatal marriage.
The situation is not unique in Africa. Many Arab and Islamic states too consider bride
wealth as a fundamental requirement of marriage. The groom has to provide marriage
gifts known as "mahr" to the bride in exchange for her a hand in marriage.
In Asia, especially India, women are subjected to abuse as a result of the institution of
dowry where the bride or her family has to pay dowry to the groom's family. The U K
committee for UNICEF stated that "dowry related violence, sometimes resulting in death
of young bride’s is common. For example, there were 999 registered cases of dowry
related deaths in India in 1985, 1319 in 1986 and 1786 in 1987. The numbers have
continued to increase". The UK government stated in the 1999 Human Rights report
that "in India more than 3000 women were killed in 1998 because their in-laws
considered their dowries inadequate. A tiny percentage of murders were brought to
justice. Girls continue to be married off well before they reach the minimum age of 18,
especially in northern India".
This being a pioneering event, we would like to value each and every contribution and
make the event as interactive as possible. To this end, we would like all participants to
prepare a presentation, of about 10-15 minutes, under any one of the themes they are
most interested in; guidelines for presentations are enclosed. We also encourage
participants to bring along communication materials that they use in their work. Space
will be made available for display of the materials and time will be set aside to share on
For further information and to register contact us at the addresses below or
simply fill in the registration form enclosed and return it by email, post or fax
to any of the addresses below.
The Conference Administrator The Conference Administrator
MIFUMI PROMPT UK
Po Box 274 BRUNSWICK COURT
Tororo BRUNSWICK SQUIRE
Uganda BRISTOL, BS2 8PE, ENGLAND
Email: Mifumi@mifumi.org email@example.com
Tel:00256 77 781122/3 0044 117 916 6457
0044 117 916 6451
VISIT OUR WEBSITE AT: www.mifumi.org; www.feelfreenetwork.org
The conference is free but participants will have to meet their transport and
accommodation costs. Places are limited and priority will be given on the
strength of participant’s contribution to the event.
Registration: latest 20 January 2004
Submission of abstracts: 9th January 2004
Submission of full presentations: 23 January 2004
BRIDE PRICE ANALYSIS: CAUSES, ROOTS AND LOCAL JUSTIFICATION/LEGITIMACY
Naming the problem: The place of bride price in human rights and development
Historical evolution of bride price (social, political and economic)
Bride price and gendered identities
Bride price, conflict and socio-cultural transformation
Religious and cultural perspectives on bride price
THE HUMAN, SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC COSTS OF BRIDE PRICE
The political economy of bride price
Bride price and the protection of children from neglect, violence and abuse
Bride price and improved sexuality
Bride price and the improvement of sexual and reproductive health and rights
Bride price and the fight against HIV/AIDS
Bride price, gender violence and interpersonal relationships
Bride price and improvement of family relations
Bride price and the participation of youth
Review of national and regional laws relating to marriage and family protection
Review of alternative approaches to legal framework intervention in Africa
INNOVATIVE APPROACHES ACROSS THE GLOBE: ELEMENTS, ACTORS, LEVELS OF
ACTION (FGM, dowry, gender violence) (Workshops/seminars)
Working with survivors
Work with men (perpetrators and allies) and youth
Behavioral change communication work with young people, the informal sector and
Strengthening strategically important institutions (health professionals, the police,
the judiciary, teachers, social workers)
Lobbying and advocacy within the political framework
MOBILISING FUTURE ACTION: ELEMENTS ACTORS AND LEVELS OF INTERVENTION
The challenge of building local and international legitimacy, increasing choices for
women, strengthening women’s safety, economic and social positions, and mobilizing
Building alliances for change (putting bride price on the political agenda)
Role of NGOs and government Institutions in improving women’s positions in society
and strengthening family relations.
Toolkits for social transformation and programme management (decision making,
problem analysis, communication)
Culture and National policy design and implementation (National health policy,
justice, law and order sector policy, education policy, national gender policy)
Identifying and enlisting agents of change
FORMULATION OF THE DECLARATION (workshops/breakaway groups)
Advocacy and public campaigns
Behavioral change communication
National policy programming, research and documentation