Uganda’s highest court has banned the practice of refunding “bride price” – normally livestock that is given by a groom to his bride’s family – when a marriage ends in divorce.
The Supreme Court agreed with activists that the practice undermines the dignity of women but it upheld the tradition of paying bride price.
Campaigners who petitioned the court had hoped the culture of giving gifts would be declared unconstitutional on the grounds that it reduces women to the status of property.
Leah Nabunnya, a spokeswoman for a Ugandan group that launched the case, said the court’s decision is nevertheless a victory for women’s rights.
“The court’s pronouncement is a win for us,” said Ms Nabunnya of the Mifumi Project.
Ms Nabunnya said studies conducted by her group show that many women are stuck in abusive marriages because leaving means their families will be obligated to make a refund of the bride price. Often the families cannot afford to return the gifts, she said.
In their ruling, the Supreme Court judges said that women were not commodities being traded in the marketplace.
The case against bride price was first launched in a lower court in 2007 by activists who argued that it is a major cause of domestic violence in the country.