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Education cost me my dowry!

“Educated girls in this region have no market at all. In fact parents do not want their daughters to step inside a class room as this will bring down the value of the girl. However, girls will sometimes go to school when there are free rations which they can then take home to their parents. The unsaid mantra in this case becomes ‘no rations no school’ instead of ‘educate a girl, educate a nation’”
‘Oh but why would the value of an educated girl go down when she has learnt so many things that she can use to support her husband and community’, I innocently asked the young lady who we had found at the district office. This conversation happened during a field trip to Nakapiripirit district in Karamoja region , where Population secretariat staff had travelled to induct district councilors on population and development issues.
“Well, that girl has grown very old, been exposed to so many ‘bad’ cultures and practices and has developed a ‘big head’ so cannot listen to her husband.” On further investigation, I found that the more educated a girl was in the region, the more difficult it was for her to settle back into the community. As a result not many girls have gone for higher education in the region and the few that managed to break this vicious chain, are shunned by society and their mates when they fail to get married soon after. Inspite of the country’s efforts to ensure that ‘children everywhere, boys and girls alike, are able to complete a full course of primary schooling by 2015, achieving Millennium Development Goal two on Education (MDG2) for Karamoja remains a wild dream. With less than three years to 2015, Karamoja region has remained with a static illiteracy rate of 88-90% .
The young woman I was speaking to said she was still unmarried six years after completing her university education and not out of her free will but because she had been shunned by suitors and those that approached her family offered fewer cows for dowry due to the fact that she was very educated. On average the dowry for a young girl in the region was about fifty to sixty heads of cattle and her family was being offered ten to twelve heads of cattle on account of her education and her family could not allow their daughter to go so cheaply.
Ironically, education in the region for both boys and girls has long been contentious. Local folklore has it that in the 1940s, elders in Jie County famously buried a pen to symbolize their disdain for education and modernity. The pen had been used by colonial officers to take down the names of local sons who they took to fight for the British army in the Second World War. Schools were therefore seen as agents for this alien life. Later on in the 1990s, the pen was publically exhumed because it was believed that the burying of the pen had placed a curse on the people.
From the above scenario, you clearly visualize the challenges and barriers that have been posed to education by culture. Efforts towards achieving success in education in Karamoja are affected by a number of hindrances including poverty, poor infrastructure, nomadism or pastoralism, economic activities that occupy children of school going age. This is compounded by a culture that does not encourage girl-child education. Girls are married off very early at about 13 – 15 years, so as to acquire wealth in form of cattle.
As a result this disparity in education levels especially for the girl child has impacted negatively on Uganda’s progress towards achieving the millennium development goals but also improving the livelihoods of its people. I believe this is one of the contributing factors as to why Uganda is still ranked in the bottom third of the world’s poorest countries.
Through education, it has been proven that young people acquire life skills and can be able to improve their health, sanitation, nutrition and even learn about family planning. Sadly this region has a long way to go and needs comprehensive strategies that will tackle the long held beliefs of education as a colonial weapon; the place of a girl as acquisition of wealth. Communities need to be rallied to appreciate education as an enabler for development. Informal education should also be promoted as a strategy to education. This is a strategy that has been used by the region where I come from and it worked.
Inspite of all these challenges, no stone must be left unturned in the name of educating the girl child, if my beloved country Uganda is to develop.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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ikirimat's picture

Thank you MDG for this

Thank you MDG for this elaborate analysis of education in Karamoja. Governments need a deliberate education policy for this region. issues are complex and require special attention. Im optimistic that with the presence of the First Lady as Minister of State for Karamoja Affairs, education is one of her focus areas to be dressed.

My presence of eight years working in this region was an experience of frustration and disappointment. The strong cultural barriers have to be dealt with if programme such as education have to survive. Cattle are the major (if not sole) source of the livelihoods and this can only be acquired through marrying of girls and raiding from neighboring tribes/clans. Elders are the final decision makers for any decision affecting the communities so are key for any successful programme.

The educated girls shun going back to their communities as role models because they are considered immoral, less of the Karimojong.

We need do do deliberate advocacy on this issue.

Thank you for raising this issue MDG

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."

erinluhmann's picture

Solid Reporting!

Dear MDG,

The quotes and personal stories that you use to highlight the tension between female education and dowry in Uganda are very effective. I was shocked to hear about the girl who was offered a small fraction of the average bride price because she was well educated.

The media often focuses on issue of getting women into classrooms, but we often forget about the stigmas that women face after they're received a good education. We need more stories like this to remind people that women's access to education is incredibly complex.

I look forward to reading more of your writing!


Lisa T's picture


Dear MDG,

Thank you for sharing your story. You do a nice job of describing the barriers that prevent girls from accessing education in Uganda. The examples you provide are interesting and I think the title of your post really captures a reader's attention. One thing I was left wondering about was in relation to the lines, "Informal education should also be promoted as a strategy to education. This is a strategy that has been used by the region where I come from and it worked." I was curious about the informal education program where you are from and how it worked. I look forward to reading more of your posts!


I keep wondering when will we have tangable results for efforts on girls education but when we come with coultural barries it seem that it will be long juarny. I am glad to know that we women are not gona give up hopes.
Thank you for sharing your story
Stay connected

It is never too late to try make your way to your dream and left up your expectation.
Sudanes Women Building Peace

aimeeknight's picture

Thank you for your in-depth

Thank you for your in-depth article. You did a great job of outlining the cultural barriers to a girl's education. I look forward to your future writings.

"One shoe can change a life" ~ Cinderella

Aminah's picture

well said

Cultural barriers and belief systems often cripple societies.
You have shown very clearly how this is true in your community, in Uganda.

I guess it will take time to break the vicious cycle. Concentration needs to be made on educating both genders without exception. Educated men would want educated women - and educated parents would wanted educated daughter-in-laws or educated son-in-laws. Keep striving forward and the cycle will break with the next generation. The going will be tough in the beginning.

wish you and your community all the best.


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