I am often asked by locals how many children do I have. When I reply none, the response is generally quite typical: ‘Why? Are you barren? Aren’t you worried Daniel will leave you and get another wife?’ Thankfully I am so secure within my marriage that these thoughts are not even on my radar, I am also not offended or hurt to hear these comments, just part of local culture and now I expect them. Local women, however, don’t share this same security.
One teacher at school was married for a number of years but when she didn’t ‘produce any children’ her husband bought (yep, in the literal sense of the word) another wife who soon gave birth and then treated her with disdain. Another teacher was married and had three children. All the children became sick (sickle-cell) and died in their infancy. Their eldest reached year 6, however as soon as he passed away her husband left her for another woman and took with him all their money and possessions. Unfortunately it is not only men who treat women like this: mother-in-laws will kick out a daughter-in-law if they don’t ‘produce’; a woman’s identity and value rests in producing children for her family: leaving heirs in the family line.
Women are bought. The bride price (dowry) is in correlation to a woman’s education. A woman who has only finished primary school will have a much smaller bride price – here, around 600,000 Ugandan shillings (£140 or $AUS250); along with possibly a couple of goats. An educated woman, however, will attract a much larger dowry: I know a medical assistant who is struggling to raise 20million shillings (£4,700; $AUS8,400) along with around 20 cows and numerous goats and chickens.
It can take husbands years, and sometimes decades, to pay off the bride price: often keeping the family in poverty until their own children marry and then the cycle will return to them.
With this ‘price’ often comes a feeling of possession or ownership. Chatting to a teenage neighbour of ours recently who was helping us around the house I said to him: ‘I hope you will help your future wife around the house like you help us’. ‘Why should I?’ he responded. And through the conversation it came out that he thought since you ‘buy’ a wife, they are yours to order around and serve you.
A good local friend of ours recently told us that her husband just got another wife; she said she was unhappy about it but at least she didn’t have to dig so much in the garden. Women work hard here! They fetch water, wash clothes, clean, cook, serve their husbands’ food and generally have little say in their ‘night time activities’.
I understand that much of this is local culture, a very traditional culture quite contrary to mine. That’s ok. But what I don’t understand is what happens when Biblical and local cultures collide? The husband and wife relationships that I read about in the Scriptures are quite contrary to this. I pray that local Christian men will stand up, be leaders in their communities, and restore the rightful respect and value to women here.