My friend told me a funny story about her wedding in Tunisia. Her father was offering her to the groom when a cry went up, “What about the dowry?”
Everyone panicked as they realized they had completely forgotten it. Then the father looked for his wallet to get some money, but he had misplaced it. In the end, he borrowed twenty dinars from her uncle and offered it to the groom’s father, who accepted it.
Just so you know, twenty dinars is about twelve bucks. Everyone at the event thought it was pretty funny and it was a nice reminder of traditions that were held deeply by her people for centuries.
But there are still places where dowries are nothing to joke about, and they can have very dangerous and sinister effects.
Take India, for example. Even though dowries have been banned for over 50 years, they are still highly prevalent, especially among the poor. And unlike many cultures where the husbands pay a dowry for beautiful wives, Indian families must pay to have their daughters married. This makes having a daughter a hefty burden, especially for a poor family in a village. And according to Itismita Mohanty at the University of Sydney, this system stops girls from getting even a basic education.
From an Indian villager’s perspective, there isn’t any value in educating a daughter. First, it costs them money for school fees and books. That’s money that can’t go towards food and urgent medical care.
Second, it means her family will have to find a husband of higher social stature. This is because it is culturally unacceptable that a husband be less educated than his wife. But this means an even higher price will have to be paid in the dowry.
And after the girl is given to her husband, the family rarely sees her again. For those reasons, investing in a daughter in India is seen as a lost cause by many families. The result is that girls are left uneducated and unable to take care of themselves. They are reduced to needing a husband and the cycle repeats itself. Their daughters remain uneducated.
It may seem like there is nothing we can do to help the situation, but that doesn’t have to be the case. In India, the factor that most likely affects whether a girl gets an education or not is if her own mother had one. Strangely, her father’s education level has no effect. This means if you help one girl in India get an education, you will help all her daughters and granddaughters get one in the future.
There is no way we can change the dowry system now, but we can circumvent it. Once girls get an education, they won’t be so dependent on their future husbands and this cycle can be broken.
Some wonderful people out there have made this their life’s work.
- The Girl Store is a site that helps people buy school supplies for girls in India to make sure they get an education and break out of intergenerational poverty.
- If you want to help girls worldwide, OneGirl is an Australian charity that aims to help every girl get an education.
And remember, when you educate a girl, you change the world.