Dowry is an ancient cultural practice, where parents gift their daughter jewelry and/or cash at her wedding. It stems from cultures in which girls are often not formally educated or financially independent. The dowry acts as a safety net for the bride to use in ’emergency’. The practice of dowry varies in different cultures:
- Mahr is the gift given by the groom to the bride in an Islamic wedding.
- Stridhan are the gifts given by the parents to the bride in Hindu marriage ceremonies. Stridhan translates to ‘property of woman’.
- Lobola or ‘bride gift’ is the payment (in cash or cattle) made by the groom’s family to the bride’s family as a gesture of gratitude for their efforts to bring up their daughter, who in turn unites the two families. It is a practiced in some South African cultures.
Dowry in various forms exists in most of the European, Asian and other cultures. This exchange of gifts at the time of a wedding takes place wherever the wedding is believed to be not just a union of two individuals but the joining of two families. This practice is slowly phasing out as more and more girls and women are formally educated and becoming financially independent.
Dowry-related abuse can occur when the dowry is deemed unsatisfactory by the groom and/or his family. This results in harassment of the bride before, during or after the wedding. This can include:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Financial abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Social abuse such as isolation, controlling behaviour or house imprisonment
- Threats of revoking visa sponsorship
- Threats to harm wife’s parents and siblings residing overseas
- Extreme violence or ‘dowry death’, which can occur when a woman is driven to commit suicide due to the continuous harassment and abuse by her husband and/or his family in an effort to extort an increased dowry.
Dowry abuse in Australia
For many new migrant women from diverse communities, there are barriers to recognising dowry abuse, understanding its impact and accessing support. This applies not only to the victims of dowry abuse, but other forms of abuse as well. Some of these barriers include:
- Feeling of shame or failure
- Fear of retribution
- Social stigma associated with being sent back to their country by their husbands
- Lack of awareness of their rights and the support available
- Language barriers.
Currently, Victoria is the only state/territory in Australia that specifically criminalises dowry abuse. The Indian Subcontinent community has taken leadership role to mobilise the government against this newly emerging form of abuse.
The ABC recently produced an award winning report about family violence in Hindu and Sikh communities that includes case studies and further information about laws and stigma in Australia.
White Ribbon Australia was proud to contribute to the Senate Enquiry into the Practice of Dowry and incidence of dowry abuse in Australia and participate in the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee.