Women’s inheritance rights and how they can benefit us all

WOMEN’S INHERITANCE RIGHTS

Inheritance rights are extremely important to end the cycle of poverty and inequality. While many laws are being made to provide these rights, they aren’t always being awarded in practice. However a lot of successful work is being done to fix this. Governments and local people are successfully working together to ensure these rights are starting to be implemented.

WHY ARE THEY IMPORTANT?

It is very important that women are awarded their right to inherit land. If a woman’s father or husband dies, and that woman cannot inherit his property, they may be left homeless. If this happens to hundreds of women, it leads to poverty becoming an issue which affects women more than men. Women may then be unable to access proper housing and food which disadvantages her and her children. By providing all children in a family with equal land and inheritance rights, all parts of the family will provided for. This ensures that none of your children or grandchildren will be left in poverty.

The lack of inheritance rights prevents all of women’s rights generally from being advanced. Women can never achieve equality if they are left in poverty because they can’t own property or land. The lack of inheritance rights means women can’t have independence or financial security. This is one of the biggest obstacles to women’s equality in Africa.

WHY ARE THEY NOT BEING IMPLEMENTED?

Many countries have formal laws providing equal land ownership and inheritance rights, but these laws often aren’t always awarded at a local level. This means women don’t receive the benefit of them. One of the reasons for this is that in many regions male-dominated customary practices determine land and inheritance rights. This allows the family of the person who dies to decide how to distribute the land. Often this means widows are forced out of their homes if their husband’s family think she contributed nothing to his estate. According to UN Habitat, inheritance is one of, if not the main way land is acquired in sub-Saharan Africa. This means it is probably the only opportunity many women will get to ever acquire land. However there is a patriarchal tradition of passing land to sons, grandsons or nephews rather than splitting it equally. One of the reasons inheritance rights aren’t implemented is the differences between the national and local policies. However the main reason is entrenched social attitudes favouring male family members.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO HELP?

There is hope. There is currently a lot of work being done in Africa on improving women’s land rights. Land reforms are underway in Malawi, Liberia, Kenya, Ghana and Tanzania. The African Union has also adopted a Declaration on Land Issues and a Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy. These give directions on how to improve land and inheritance laws across Africa. Rwanda is a good example of a country whose Constitution, and matching laws, are committed to protecting women’s rights to inherit land.

Marwin Ramos

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