When I die, bury me where my mother wants me to be buried. When I die, let my mother’s wishes be respected.
I recently found out that once married via a traditional ceremony from my community (Kikuyu in Kenya) and dowry is paid, you can’t be separated or divorced unless you return the dowry paid for you to your (ex)husband’s family. So I asked my grandmother what would happen if my mom wants to remarry. She said that dowry must first be taken back to my father’s family so that she is free to marry someone else. Then I asked what would happen if she passed away and she said she can only pray that my father and his family are logical and will let her be buried in her property or her family’s property.
But if they decide to be difficult and hold on to culture, my mother will most likely be buried in his family’s property. I was so angry at this, that such traditions still exist, that just because dowry was paid for her, she belongs to their family. I am angry that even though my father hasn’t played an active role in my life, if I died, I would be buried in his land.
I hate that even though he has been an absentee father, if someone were to seek my hand in marriage, dowry must be paid to my father and not my mother who has bent her back backwards all her life to see that we never lacked any of our needs. Isn’t it so backward that we still believe that women and children belong to men? That my mother was her father’s and then she became her husband’s? That even though she divorced him legally, people still refer to her as my dad’s wife (Mrs His name)?
It’s 2020 and our society is still this rigid and stuck on cultures that are harmful to women, that perpetuate and promote patriarchal ownership, cultures that deny women their own autonomy over their lives.
I’m currently working on a project that is aimed at ending female genital mutilation in the Maasai community and it is so difficult to cultivate this change when the community is not accustomed to listening to women. That my male colleague, saying the exact same thing as me, will be respected and have his opinions respected while mine are dismissed.
I understand the need to appreciate culture and traditions, but surely, we must have conversations on dismantling traditions that are harmful to us. Letting go of harmful traditions does not necessarily mean that we are doing away with the whole community’s culture or way of life. We must learn to let go of what is damaging and only keep that which is beneficial.
I dream of a future where all women’s rights are recognized. I am still privileged to come from an urban family, an educated family, but what about the woman in the rural area subjected to these harmful traditions in their day to day life? We must seek liberation for them too. We must fight until all women are liberated.
Women have made certain strides in fighting retrogressive laws. Now, women have the right to own land, to inherit land. In my tribe, women who don’t want to get married pay their own dowry so that they can be relieved of that pressure and so that their younger sisters can get married. Because it is still looked down upon when the younger sister gets married before the elder one.
However, I find comfort in that the community is starting to embrace the fact that some women simply do not want to get married, to be known as someone’s property. So they pay their own dowry and belong solely to themselves. I hope we continue embracing change such that we will get to a point where we don’t even have to pay dowry but can just simply say we choose not to get married.
Traditions can be good and can be very harmful. Changing culture is difficult, but if we’re persistent, we can achieve change in our communities.
Feature Photo by jeanvdmeulen onPixabay