Recently, Bahadur Giri made two unusual decisions. First, he talked to his son about what he wanted for his marriage, rather than making the decision on his own. Second, he did not ask for or accept dowry for his son’s marriage.
“My son and I talked about it, and we decided that we did not need anything from my daughter-in-law’s family. The newly married couple will be able to have a life without it, and dowry leads to many bad consequences.”
Most of the people I talked to on a recent trip to Bangladesh and Nepal can recite the negative consequences of child marriage are: girls married too young are more likely to die in child birth, they drop out of school, they are more likely to face violence, and their children have fewer lifetime opportunities for success. People also talk about how dowry is harming their communities. Paying dowry means that families marry their girls younger (it is believed that younger girls pay a lower dowry). Girls whose parents don’t pay dowry face abuse from husband and from in-laws, or may be rejected entirely, which ruins any future chance of getting re-married.
But the fact that parents can recite the negative consequences hasn’t stopped child marriage. In Nepal, 41% of girls still get married below the age of 18. Knowing that something is harmful is not enough to stop it. One reason is that as a girl gets older, her dowry gets more expensive. Parents are afraid they won’t be able to pay later, and that their daughter won’t get married at all—which will leave her socially ostracized and with no support. But the decision about dowry doesn’t rest with girls or their parents. The groom’s family decides what dowry should be. As a father-in-law, Bahadur has the power to make a change, and he’s decided to do it.
It’s a brave step. In Kapilbastu, Nepal, most families give their future son-in-law a bicycle or a motorcycle, and Bahadur came to our community meeting on the bike that was his wife’s dowry for her wedding. The social pressure for dowry there is so strong that young men who are determined to marry a poorer girl will buy themselves a new motorcycle and say it was a dowry payment, just to avoid censure and protect their wife’s reputation.
Bahadur isn’t afraid. He is part of a men’s support group with CARE and the Dalit Social Development Center—a Nepali organization—that helps men who want to support gender equality and women’s rights. The men work together to support each other in difficult decisions, and to convince their peers that gender equality is better for everyone. “We want to be better people; better husbands and fathers. So we have to change ourselves.”
Let’s support men who want to be more equal with the women and girls in their lives. The ones brave enough to change their behavior to match what they know. Providing men with spaces to help each other make difficult changes helps everyone—women and girls and men and boys—live in dignity and fight poverty. Read more about CARE’s work with men and boys at http://www.care.org/work/womens-empowerment/men
About the Program: The Tipping Point initiative is addressing child marriage through a dynamic process of innovation, insight (analysis and learning), and influence through advocacy. With the generous support of The Kendeda Fund, and in partnership with Siddhartha Samudayik Samaj (SSS), the Dalit Social Development Center (DSDC), JASHIS, and the Association for Slum Dwellers (ASD), the project focuses on facilitating and learning from innovative strategies to influence change-makers and root causes of child marriage in Nepal and Bangladesh, two child marriage hotspots. Read more about it at www.care.org/tippingpoint. You can also look for more in our series of what causes child marriage here.
About the Author: Emily Janoch is the Knowledge and Learning Advisor for CARE USA's Gender and Empowerment team. She has 9 years experience in international development, focusing on how to work with communities to get solutions that work for them. She has a Masters' in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.