Uganda's top court on Thursday banned the practice of refunding bride price — normally livestock given by the groom to his wife's family — when a marriage ends in divorce.
The Supreme Court agreed with activists that the practice undermines the dignity of women, but it upheld the practice of paying bride price.
"Refunding compromises the dignity of the woman," said Chief Justice Bart Katureebe, according to Uganda’s Daily Monitor.
Activists who petitioned the court hoped that the whole culture of bride price would be declared unconstitutional on the grounds that it reduces women to the status of property.
Still, Leah Nabunnya, a spokeswoman for the Mifumi Project, a Ugandan group that launched the case, said the court's decision is a victory for women's rights. "The court's pronouncement is a win for us," she said.
She said studies conducted by the group show that many women are stuck in abusive marriages because divorce means their families would be obligated to refund the bride price. Many women's families cannot afford to return the price, she said.
In banning the practice of returning bride price, the judges said that women were not commodities being traded in the marketplace.
The case against bride price was launched in a lower court in 2007 by activists who argued that bride price is a major factor leading to domestic violence in the country. That court dismissed the petition in 2010, prompting them to take the case to the Supreme Court.