Cultural Traditions Fuel Rights Violations
By Alith Cyer Mayar
In the popular old adage in some local communities, “A girl is like a cloth in the market.” Though anyone would mistake this as demeaning to women but culturally, it positively means that an unmarried girl in the some community can be approached by anyone for a hand in marriage.
In this case, she has the latitude or is spoilt for choices and can have more than one boyfriend. This precarious situation simply allows her the prime opportunity for her to understand the dynamics that come into play in relation to men and how to handle them in future. The same lady can therefore be married by anyone depending on her preferences or according to the parents’ wishes.
To many in the society, especially traditional elders, girls are viewed as only meant to exist for purposes of attracting herds of cattle, food production and to just get married and have children.
My father fills his boutique from my mother’s treasured wardrobe, she drops a breaking and silent tears each time a cloth is pulled for a certain price, political reason or friendship but when it’s for love that a certain cloth is pulled out, she smiles because to her, marriage out of love lasts longer and have a mutual understanding between partners.
Being the last born, I watched my mother hate my father for doing what the society call “the success of a man”. In the lenses of the society, a man was expected to marry off his daughter to a suitor with a roof and ability to feed her.
For purposes of clarity and fairness, only pseudo names have been used in this article. When my eldest sister, Aluel, not her real name, was approached by a man for marriage as soon as her physical appearances changed to conform, she was in her puberty stage. The man came home asking for her hand in marriage because he respected or knew my father.
I thought he was simply attracted to my sister because of her physical appearances more so because she had started developing breasts. When Aluel’s follower, Achok got to the same stage, the perception among men was the same, majority viewed her as a potential wife material and suitors began salivating.
My other sisters who followed Aluel and Achok are Apuk and Angap. Unfortunately the duo was raped on the first day of their menstruation and became women at very early ages. Achok was lucky enough to be home so she patiently waited for her suitor for three years and lucky enough he turned up.
My sister Adeng is the one who followed Angap. She was booked by a man and his family at a tender age, Adeng and my father became so proud and happy because it’s believed that only girls who have something different in them are booked in advance, the hard working and beautiful queens especially if they are tall like my sister despite the fact that seven cows were paid as a down payment for booking Adeng.
However this did not close the opportunity to other men to come and try their luck on her. She would later become the darling of many men, who opted to compete for dowry prize and ultimately the suitor with the highest number of cows and dowry price married her.
Adeng’s follower, Achol was given a way to my father’s friend on grounds that he didn’t want to disappoint him. This was in contrast to my uncles’ wishes; they refused to consent to the marriage.
They literally declined any dowry from a 50 plus-year old man who actually ended up marrying my sister. The man’s first wife allegedly gave birth to ugly children. My sister had no choice but to cave in to pressure from my dad, so she got married to the man. She believed my father’s words were final and so obeyed them without an iota of opposition. I quite knew it was not her own decision but she got married because my father had wanted her to do so.
Achan suffered cultural fate as she was married to a physically handicapped man. They could not sire children and so she fell to fate. She was coerced into siring children with her husband’s younger brother; after all culturally the children would still belong to her disabled husband who had paid 150 cows.
In my culture getting married, having children, pleasing husbands and in-laws and being the best house wife are what define success.
On the contrary, a woman who got pregnant and did not wed for her community and families to celebrate is viewed as a failure. By these standards, my father was generally a successful man and neither was my mother because she tailored for a ‘boutique’ that was admired, highly demanded and paid for a beautiful price.
My moral lesson in this opinion is that forced or early marriage is a total violation of human rights. We cannot cite cultural practices as excuses to continue violating the rights of women especially under the modern world.
We cannot also quench people’s lusts at the expense of rights.