The Aussie men who buy their wives

Weddings and dowries are an ongoing practice in ethnic communities in Australia. Photo/123RF
Weddings and dowries are an ongoing practice in ethnic communities in Australia. Photo/123RF

Three-hundred cows for a bride.

It sounds like an exchange relegated to the pages of history, but it is a practice that remains very much alive in some pockets of Australia, according to news.com.au.

When South Sudanese lawyer Nyadol Nyuon found the man she wanted to marry, she was torn between two worlds: That of her tradition, in which dowries are still expected from a prospective husband by his bride's family as payment for letting her go, and that of her modern belief system, in which she objects to the gender imbalance of their practice.

Ultimately, she agreed to her husband giving her family 300 cows in exchange for her hand to preserve her relationship with her family.

"I value the relationship with my mother and I value the relationship with my extended family members," she told SBS program Insight last night.

If she was to reject the tradition, she said, her dream wedding would not have occurred.

"It would have not involved the big celebration, the big wide celebration that includes
everybody else," she said.

"And so because of those pressures I think, I wanted, I went along with it and part of it, the other thing as well is that I actually have no say.

"Culturally I have no say on whether or not someone pays a dowry for me.

"It's not ... a right of mine to tell anybody that they can't pay a dowry. It's seen as my family right, that's my mum's right, that's my father right.

"So it would be asserting myself in a very different way."

Despite that, Nyuon said she was conflicted over the arrangement.

"I felt as if I, I think, personally I felt as if I wasn't strong enough to have stood up to my
culture and say, 'I actually don't want to pay this amount of cows for me,'" she said.

"So I felt quite conflicted throughout my wedding and I think I feel quite conflicted now even now speaking honestly in that ... I'm not quite settled with the dowry stuff and I don't think that some of the things that come off the practice itself are justifiable."

The exchange of a dowry for a bride has long been tradition among those of Islamic faith, as well as a widespread practice in Africa and South Asia.

Requesting a dowry was outlawed in India in 1961 but the practice continues in many migrant communities in Australia and is often linked to domestic violence.

Last year, the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence recommended Victoria consider new laws which include dowry-related abuse as a form of domestic violence.

Nyuon said in Nuer culture, the ethnic group concentrated in the South Sudan, men essentially own their wives and children after the exchange of a dowry, giving women no rights.

"I think that the issues within the marriage themselves can be exacerbated by the fact that someone has paid a dowry for you and I think there can be assumptions about what you're supposed to do, what you're not supposed to do," she said.

"I also know that culturally one of the things that, for example, makes me anti dowry is the fact that I don't have the same right to my children, at least in Nuer cultural law I won't have the same rights to my children as my husband would because my husband has paid a dowry, you know, so my children will always be part of his family.

"They will take his name but they will never be part of my family. Whereas if he didn't pay the dowry, then the kids could legally be named under Nuer culture under my father's name."

The program talks to a number of couples about the practice, including Brisbane Muslim woman Naseema Mustapha, a social worker, who decided with her prospective husband and fellow social worker Mohamed to personalise her dowry.

She told Insight she requested Mohamed to buy and slaughter a goat to cook it and feed the poor, as a way of honouring the tradition without compromising her equality in her marriage.

- news.com.au

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