In this HERstory from Dinah Musindarwezo, she shares with us one of the most difficult choices she had to make which cost her the love of someone dear to her but which she still stands by firm.
There are many conscious choices I have made that are against tradition in my community but I will mention two here and I will elaborate only on one. One, refusing to be paid dowry/bride price for, when I was getting married; two, not using my husband’s name when I got married.
I made the above choices because I believed the practices were against feminist principles and gender justice. Although I managed to convince some members of the family, some others I did not, including my Dad who was extremely mad at me for making the choice that denied him opportunity to get bride price from my husband to be. In his own words, he said that “I was disrespecting him and denying him his right to receive bride price for his daughter”. It affected our relationship and it was hard to amend it completely until he passed on. (May his soul rest in peace). The entire community including some of my friends and my parents’ friends cautioned me on the decision and expressed their opinions but it wasn’t going to change my mind. Some of their comments included that I was being “westernized”.
At my dad’s funeral I found myself thinking about this choice and asking myself whether I had made the right decision. I concluded that, yes, it was a right decision because it was in line with what I believe in and hold dear. I was sad that we hadn’t managed to amend our relationship completely but I did not regret the decision.
The price i paid for making that choice was heavy as it costed me a good relationship with my dad. However, I feel empowered by the fact that I was able to challenge the status quo and traditions whose purpose is to discriminate against women and girls. By doing so, it made me feel that I started to redefine traditions and culture that are against my values. I believe that my decision will inspire other feminists to make similar decisions. My dream is that the negative cultural and traditional values will be transformed/redefined. This can only be possible if people being affected start to resist. As feminists we all have a role to play in making change happen in line with transforming/changing patriarchal beliefs and norms. Sometimes it’s the small steps that we take that will lead to big transformations.
My fiancé -husband now, collaborated with me on this decision and that was helpful. I was often reminded that there are men out there who would not agree to such a decision as it would threaten their manhood. I am glad that my husband was empowered enough to understand where I was coming from. Although not in agreement with me, my mum and my big sister respected my decision and were supportive.
The fact that I have always made it clear to all people around me that I am a feminist which involves challenging the status quo, somehow gave leeway to make this kind of decision and not so much noise was made about it. So it is important to declare and name yourself as a feminist if indeed your are one.
I live by the following principles:
- Freedom of choice and autonomy
The saying that the “personal is political” is so key as we aspire to live our feminist values better.
We’re grateful to Dinah for sharing HERstory with us. Difficult choices confront our strength and test our relationships, but we come out a stronger version of ourselves. Dinah Musindarwezo, from Rwanda, is currently the Executive Director of FEMNET – African Women’s Development and Communication Network.
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