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Girls & Women

In Zimbabwe, Brides Come With Price Tags. But This Woman Is Trying to Change That

As she prepares to remarry, Pricillar Vengesai, a lawyer in Zimbabwe, is challenging the constitutionality of her country’s “bride price” custom.

Vengesai argued that the tradition of buying a bride — known as lobola or roora — diminishes women, treats them like “assets,” and “exacerbates gender inequities.” She said that the practice violates her constitutional rights and has submitted an application for a hearing in Zimbabwe’s highest court.

The bride price tradition demands that the groom and the bride’s family members negotiate an appropriate dowry, which can include cash, goods, and property, before the marriage.

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Members of Zimbabwe’s Shona community consider lobola necessary for a marriage to be acceptable, but Vengesai said she does not want to wear a “price tag” — as she did in her first marriage.

“I did not participate in the pegging of the lobola price. I was never given a chance to ask for the justification of the amounts which were paid,” she told the state-run Herald newspaper. “This whole scenario reduced me to a property.”

Historically, men have paid a dowry to their wife’s family to compensate for the loss of labor, especially on farms, once the wife moved away from her family. Today, however, Zimbabwean families usually deal in cash when haggling over the lobola.

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“This demoralized me and automatically subjected me to my husband’s control since I would always feel that I was purchased,” she continued.

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Bride price traditions are common throughout Africa and other parts of the world, even though some countries have expressly banned them. Niger has set a maximum bride price and the Kenyan constitution forbids bride prices, but the practice remains common in both countries, the BBC reported.

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Vengesai said she understands the historic and cultural importance of the lobola tradition, and suggested that both families receive compensation in order to restore dignity and equal rights to women.