Uganda's top court today banned the practice of refunding bride price—normally livestock given by the 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 practice of paying bride price. Activists who petitioned the court had hoped the whole culture of giving gifts would be declared unconstitutional on the grounds that it reduces women to the status of property. Still, Leah Nabunnya, a spokeswoman for a Ugandan group that launched the case, said the court's decision is a victory for women's rights. "The court's pronouncement is a win for us," said Nabunnya, of the Mifumi Project.
Nabunnya said studies conducted by her group show that many women are stuck in abusive marriages because quitting means their families will be obligated to make a refund of the bride price. Such women's families often cannot afford to return the gifts, she said. In banning the practice of returning gifts in the event of a failed marriage, the judges said today 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 bride price is a major cause of domestic violence in this East African country. (Read more dowry stories.)