A dowry is money, property, or goods that a woman brings as a gift to her husband upon marriage. The practice, also known as trousseau, is a custom that has been around for centuries and was most commonly practiced in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Modern times have seen this practice fall by the wayside because of abuse suffered by women as a result of misuse of the practice.
Historically speaking, a dowry was a way of providing a woman with a portion of her family’s wealth, which she would not otherwise be entitled to by inheritance. Additionally, it was believed to be the best way to protect a woman from suffering abuse or ill treatment by her husband. The gift was combined with a bride price, or rather an amount of money or property the groom would pay to the bride’s family in exchange for her marriage to him.
Though the dowry became the property of the husband, the woman would inherit it should she become a widow. Should the woman die, the money or property, less the cost of the bride price, would be inherited by her own natural born children.
What began as a custom to protect and provide for a young woman also grew to be a burden on poorer families as they could not afford to give to what a suitable husband or his family might demand. The practice began to compromise the treatment of women, as well. Though a dowry is now an outdated practice for most cultures, some countries have carried the custom into modern times.
India is an example of a country with dowry customs in modern times, although many of the laws pertaining to it have been changed and, as of 1961, its use is prohibited, although not unheard of. This ban grew largely out of human rights movements protesting the high rate of death among young married women as it is believed that the practice of killing them for the money or property was frequently carried out by husbands or their families.
The advancement of probate laws and women’s rights has made the custom obsolete. Women in most cultures are now allowed to inherit and own property and/or money. Further, prenuptial agreements, where allowed, can protect a woman's property from becoming marital or joint property.