Dowry

How does the practice of dowry pose a threat to women?

The practice of Dowry is yet another symbol of the devalued status of women in parts of the world. In certain communities there is the belief that the low status of girls has to be compensated for through payment of a dowry, by the parents of the girl to the husband at the time of marriage. This has resulted in a number of dowry crimes, including mental and physical torture, starvation, rape, and even the burning alive of women by their husbands and/or in-laws in cases where dowry payments are not met.1

Dowries put women in a helpless position, as they are never part of the discussion regarding payment. Often the dowry price of the bride is associated with her age and purity. Dowries are often a monetary deal between two men: the bride’s father and the groom. Such cultural arrangements completely violate the dignity of women and the quality of their personal relationships.2

 

Why does the practice of dowry continue to happen?

Though the practice of dowry has demonstrated itself to be extremely detrimental and harmful o the wellbeing of women, it is still a difficult practice for many families to give up due to social and cultural pressures. Originally, the custom was meant to empower women in their new home. The rational was that, with her dowry, she would not be entering her husband’s home empty handed. She could bring her own wealth and therefore be a more equal member of her new family and be less prone to maltreatment. Unfortunately, the tradition has turned into a business for some. Many families rely on dowries as a source of income at the time of marriage. Many grooms and their families even request material goods such as cars, houses and household items. Moreover, if the bride’s family does not pay an amount that the groom’s family finds suitable, the women is harassed to ask her parents for more.

 

What steps has the Indian government taken to bring an end to this practice?

The government of India has taken formative steps to stop dowry as it was outlawed in 1961 under the “Dowry Prohibition Act” 3. Unfortunately, the law is hard to enforce and has done little to change the belief system that sustains it. A recently enacted civil law, called the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA,) has however revamped hope in the Indian government’s ability to curb the practice of dowry. Through the implementation of PWDVA, women have been more successful in obtaining protection orders from courts in regards to claims of dowry related harassment 4. Furthermore, officers appointed under the PWDVA operate under the direct control of the criminal courts, which has proven greater effectiveness in reclaiming dowry items for women from their matrimonial homes 4

In Canada, the practice of dowry has been known to lead to harassment and extortion. That said, many from South Asian communities have continued to exchange dowry at the time of marriage in Canada. This has led to another major social problem of abandoned brides in India. Countless reports are now emerging of young women being married to men from Canada only to learn that they did so to take the dowry and run. “Typically in these cases, after a dowry is paid and marriage consummated, the new husbands return to their homes abroad and in many cases, only bring their wives with them if their in-laws agree to cough up more money”.5

1. “Fact Sheet No.23, Harmful Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and.” UN, Web. 24 Aug 2011. <http://unrol.org/files/FactSheet23en.pdf>.

2. Farouk, Sharmeen A. “UN Division for the Advancement of Women.Violence against women: A statistical overview, challenges and gaps. Web. 24 Aug 2011. <http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/egm/vaw-stat-2005/docs/expert-papers/Farouk.pdf>.

3. “The Dowry Protection Act”. The Department of Women and Child Development. Web. 20 July 2012. <http://wcddel.in/ww/dpact.html>.

4. Basu, A. (2009). United Nations. Web. 18 July 2012. <http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/egm/vaw_legislation_2009/Expert%20Paper%20EGMGPLHP%20_Asmita%20Basu_.pdf>