While an engagement ring- usually expensive and proudly displayed on social media is a sign of upcoming nuptials; flaunting bride price- usually piles of clothes and wads of money, is its equivalent in Africa.
In Niger, bride price, which used to be a secret between the two families has now become a tool for bragging and showing off on Facebook and WhatsApp.
It may seem like a fad, but women rights groups from Niger have complained that the display of the bride price on social media is piling pressure on young women to get married too soon.
Niger has the highest rates of child marriages in the world. Many families marry off their daughters as young as 12 to wealthy men. The consequences are adverse: physical and sexual violence, dropping out of school and poverty.
This new trend is increasing the rates even further.
“It creates a desire when you see others posting these kinds of photos and it pushes you to accept men you don’t love or when you’re not ready. You don’t know anything about the guy but, because you see everyone else posting pictures with a bride price of 2m CFA [$3600], you want it too; you want to be married; you want to be called madame rather than mademoiselle,” said Samira Ousmane, an activist and founder of Nigerielles magazine.
There is also the other side to the influence of social media on marriage: increased divorces.
Sheikh Djibril Karanta of the Islamic Association in Niamey said that the group processed 820 divorces in 2017, largely because of Facebook and WhatsApp. This is a sharp contrast to the less than 100 divorces annually in the past twenty years.
Like many marabouts, Sheikh Karanta says that women are to blame for these increased divorces because they have been influenced by Western culture.
“Most of the time, the women are the problem. They watch TV series from abroad and see how women earn money and are equal to men. But here in Niger men look after women and they are superior,” he said.
Other men feel that women should give up social media one they are married if they wish to stay married.
“A good wife shouldn’t use Facebook,” said Serge Abdul Razak, a young marabout (Muslim holy man). “She should delete her account when she gets married and change her WhatsApp number.”
Niger is traditionally Muslim and in Islam, a man is allowed to have up to four wives. However, the women are becoming more independent, making their own choices of husbands.