A Dinka (Southern Sudanese ethnic group) riddle poses that “If you were crossing a river with your cow and wife and there is danger of drowning and you can save only one of them, which one would you save? The answer is “that you save the cow because with it you can marry another woman.”
Dowry (bride price) though seldom discussed, flourishes in Victoria and elsewhere in Australia. While this problem has existed for some time, it is more recently that law makers and practitioners have started tackling dowry related violence toward women and girls.
A Sudanese faith leader recently explained to me the logic that informs dowry “a daughter has been brought up by her family and is their source of income. The only property parents have is their daughter. You give away your daughter for dowry and then you are financially set,” he said.
Another spoke of a direct connection between dowry and domestic violence. “In paying for dowry,” he said, “wives are the husbands property and can beat her for not being good at chores, for answering back, asking for financial support.” He also explained, “wives under the dowry custom become a slave to the husband’s family, so that even if the husband dies, the wife cannot remarry without the consent of the husband’s family. ”
In a visit to a South East Melbourne faith community recently, I was told that 3 women had been murdered as a result of dowry related violence over the last 5 years.
Men’s willingness to break the silence about dowry related violence toward women and girls is significant because it embodies the fundamental recognition that dowry related violence is a problem overwhelmingly for which men are responsible. Men have a moral obligation to change attitudes and behaviours that are negative towards women and girls. Specifically, that females are property and, replace these with norms of respect and gender equality.
While some men are part of the problem, all men are part of the solution.