Bridenapping – a new twist on an ancient patriarchal art

Celebrations in the local hostelry after the bride has been seized is not so far back in our culture as many of us suppose.

Celebrations in the local hostelry after the bride has been seized is not so far back in our culture as many of us suppose.


Today’s Independent has a piece by Emily Duggan in which she reports on the existence of a scarcely reported phenomenon of bridenapping in over 17 different countries.  The UN spokesperson Aminata Touré, chief of the Gender, Human Rights and Culture branch of the UN Population Fund, is reported as saying: “What we really need is more research to come up with the level of the problem. For something to be registered as a crime, it has to be reported; that’s the problem, because it’s often seen as a cultural practice and not a crime. When it’s not perceived as a crime, it becomes even harder for this practice to be registered as one. These are issues that sometimes it is problematic even to talk about. The bottom line is that women are considered as commodities – both by the husband who takes them and their own families who accept a deal.”

Well yes – because although the excesses of bridenapping are still being carried out with the default acceptance by the authorities in many countries included in this Independent on Sunday report in Kyrgyzstan, Chechnya, China, across many countries in Africa including Somalia, and from my own first hand reported experience in DR Congo, aswell as in some countries in South America – the resonances of this in our own Western idealised Hollywood weddings are still extremely present today.

This is not to diminish the appalling offence of bridenapping as it is being executed today on the lives of young women seeking to live out their lives independently and freely, and finding this avenue cut off precipitously by force by a marauding male, or more frequently small team of males.  A form of legitimized rape, and long-term removal of a woman’s life options comes on the back of any cultural legitimation of buying, selling, removing by force of women from their communities, whether the wider culture seeks to diminish the offence by placing the word husband next to the man who has appropriated another’s life.

However – and when you have read this next portion please hop across to the report on the Independent’s pages to see the extent of the challenge which faces the legislature in the affected countries and the UNPF as it seeks to make cultural inroads on the problem – however.  We in our celebrity, meringue laden, Bridegroom assisted by team helmsman of Best man and his crew of Ushers performance of marriage, where the Bridegrooms sword hand is free to fend off any attempt by the bride-napped family to regain their daughter, where the Best Man is situated behind the Bridegroom precisely to defend his

The Bride and Groom depart with the applause of family and friends - the history of bridenapping in our medieval past long forgotten

back, and where Father’s still ‘give their daughter’s away’ in marriage to another man – all these practices hark back to an age which now in most of Western Europe has happily passed into the archive.  But the cultural practice of male power, dominance, privilege and inter-male exchange persists.  Not to mention the popularity of recruiting wives from Thailand, Russia, the Philipines and countries where a woman can be a means by which her wider family gains access to previously undreamt of financial resources – whilst her own understanding of her rights and freedom to choose can be substantially constrained.

A timely piece and one rich with implications for action both here in the West, as well as in the halls of the UNDP, and the legislatures and communities of the 17 countries named and shamed so far.

The Independent on Sunday –


About fordwords

Writer, social entrepreneur, coach, academic, Anglican priest, mother and Human Values commentator. Curious as to how power, gender, sexuality, globalisation, migration, faith, and the 'open knowledge economy' are now playing out in our gendered world - how the domestic collides with the former dictates of business, governance and public space. Reaching out for a world in which all children can mature into adults who enjoy space, well-being, love, inter-dependence and dignity. We are still someway off. These musings hope to shorten the distance between hope and realisation in our lives.
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