Education or Dowry?
In Pakistan, the illiteracy rate of women surpasses 40 percent, while over 95 percent of all marriages involves the evil system of dowry transferred by the bride’s side. Why are parents compelled to give dowry to their daughter? Why are they not educating them?
Mistreatment of girls has transformed from pre-Islamic days when the girls were buried alive, to Modern-day when they are being tortured, smuggled, and sold. The practice of giving dowry to meet societal demands is an open way of selling girls. Unfortunately, it has become a normal ritual in Pakistan. Parents spend their whole lives saving money for dowries, and if they have two or more daughters, they feel forced to marry them to undeserving suitors because they can’t afford dowry to marry them in financially good families. Even if the groom’s family refuses to take anything, parents still give dowries to ensure their daughters comfort and to protect them from dowry-related abuse in the next phase of life. So, instead of judging the financial capacity of parents based on the dowry they give, those people should be judged who shamelessly accept dowry, which signifies how many things they are lacking in their homes. However, it is important to recognize that if parents invest the same money in their daughters’ education, they will enable them to become independent and create a better future.
The middle class is known to suffer the most when it comes to providing their daughters with dowries and funding their education. The social fabric of a nation is significantly affected by these two opposite factors. The practice of providing dowry exacerbates gender inequality and financial problems. On the other hand, education is widely regarded as a prerequisite for success and empowerment.
Despite the well-known adage “Dowry is a curse”, people present many reasons to justify the practice of providing dowry. Some argue that money is a means to show support or gift for the bride. Some assert that it is a legal right of the parents, and others believe it is the source of authority and influence in her in-laws. But they forget that the family that is judging her importance on dowry—how can it make her happy? There are other causes that are rarely discussed, which are as follows:
In both families, dowry or jahez is frequently seen as a symbol of family honor and social standing. Families fear societal judgement if they do not provide or accept a big dowry, which perpetuates the trend. Actually, society does not pay for the dowry, nor will it live with the girl for the rest of her life, then why should one be afraid of it? Most often, taking dowry is motivated by avarice, and the groom’s side makes demands that include wanting a car, a bike, or even money, with the justification that they would provide for the use of their own daughter. Dowry is sometimes offered as a means of providing financial security to the bride in her marital household. It acts as a safety net, ensuring that she is taken care of in the event of unforeseen circumstances or divorce. But that prognosis is rarely accurate because dowry does not last a lifetime.
Dragging the talk towards the education of girls, it is found that an educated girl has stronghold; she is her own support in unpleasant situations. An established girl is more significant and influential in terms of societal expectations than the one who has brought the largest dowry. Although things will eventually fade away, education will endure. The bride’s gifts have been observed to be sold over time, but education cannot be snatched.
The effects of this system that is corroding the society stem from high debts placed on girls’ parents for the rest of their lives; parents are afraid to have daughters; there is more pressure to fulfill demands than happiness in marriage; and this makes girls feel like burdens. It also gets worse when dowry-related crimes or cruel treatment, such as burning the bride, are committed after marriages. The most dowry-related fatalities—2,000 per year—occur in Pakistan. This problem is perpetuated by the fear of divorce or the tags of victim blaming by society. Conversely, girls with higher levels of education are more likely to speak up for themselves, file complaints against oppressors, and end the cycle of stereotypes.
There have been laws enacted in the past, particularly Pakistan’s Dowry and Marriage Gifts (Restriction) Bill 2008, which prohibits the public exhibition of jahez and the demand for it. It also caps the amount of dowry at PKR 3000 and the total amount of bridal gifts at PKR 50,000. There are many other laws, like anti-dowry legislation from 1967, 1976, 1998 etc, but none of them has been put into action to address this cultural menace.
There will be significant improvements if laws are effectively enforced in society, if severe penalties are meted out to those who breach the law, and if parents get the message that contributing to their daughters’ education is more important than providing them with dowries. People should be aware that Islam only recognizes Mahr, which is given by the groom to the bride; there is no such thing as jahez; in fact, Islam is strictly opposed to such behaviors. This idea needs to be taught in schools so that those who cannot pursue higher education are also made aware of this growing scourge, which would undoubtedly save the following generation. The concept that girls are measured in dowries as parents are pressured to get them married should be eradicated, and the motive that girls should be educated and independent in this regard and that they are not bound to bring dowry with them should be predominant.