The importance of marriage in women’s lives
Both men and women gain merit and respect through the achievement of their social tasks and responsibilities, which they learn from childhood. Women’s work is seen as being crucial to society, and to some extent this is recognised in women’s rights to inheritance and property. Nevertheless, for young people of both sexes, maturity and responsibility are mainly acquired through marrying, and through maintaining their own household. Young men become full members of society by gaining control of household resources such as herds and family labour. Women also develop their own areas of decision-making, principally by giving birth to, and bringing up, their children.
Women have opportunities to acquire economic resources independently. Sometimes young people accumulate wealth through inheritance, but this wealth will be managed by older relatives until the young marry. Livestock and other materials inherited by girls from fathers and other relatives are never taken over by the husband on marriage. Women also have the liberty of disposing of their wealth in whatever way they see fit.
Women’s rights under customary law are limited; their main power-base is their family, relatives and her sub-clan who supposedly provide both resources and advice in troubled times. If a woman is ill-treated by her husband or in-laws, her family might intervene on her behalf, although this is not guaranteed. They can thus decide the fate of the marriage.
Cross-clan marriages create ‘diplomatic’ relations between groups, and are therefore treated with respect. The way men treat wives from a certain clan influences how other groups see them as potential partners. Hence if a man mistreats his wife other members of his group usually intervene, mediating between the couple with the help of her male kin.