Bringing equality home: promoting and protecting the inheritance rights of women | Land Portal

Resource information

Date of publication: 
January 2004
Resource Language: 
ISBN / Resource ID: 

In this report, the COHRE Women and Housing Rights Programme (WHRP) documents the fact that under both statutory and customary law, the overwhelming majority of women in sub-Saharan Africa (regardless of their marital status) cannot own or inherit land, housing and other property in their own right. Instead, in respect of access to land and housing, women are made entirely dependant on their relationship to a male.The paper reviews the legislation and administrative policies in relation to land, housing and inheritance rights in ten sub-Saharan African countries: Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Botswana, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.This review includes national constitutions, administration of estates acts, marriage and marital property acts, inheritance and succession laws, and land laws and policies. Where applicable case law is also examined. As far as is possible, it also provides an overview of customary law and traditions related to inheritance. The study highlights realities of women’s experience of inheritance rights denial using personal testimony and information from secondary sources. Using international human rights as the standard of measurement, the reports examines the laws and situations within each country and makes specific recommendations to the various country governments.The paper concludes that issues of women’s inheritance extend far beyond the crucial challenge of establishing the necessary legal frameworks that would allow women to own and inherit property. For in almost all ten sub-Saharan countries examined, the fact that women generally cannot rent, lease, own or inherit land and housing is not just the result of gender-biased statutory law; it is also due to discriminatory customary laws and traditions, as well as social norms and attitudes.In all the cases addressed in this report, women’s lack of security in the housing sphere stems from entrenched systems of gender discrimination, whether these systems be legal or normative, or a combination thereof. These discriminatory customary laws, traditions and cultural norms only serve to intensify and make more widespread the housing and inheritance rights abuses that are currently being faced by many millions of women in the region.Key recommendations for addressing the issue of discrimination against women in the housing sphere are outlined in detail in the paper, falling broadly into two categories:administrative and legal reforms: States should design and revise laws to ensure that women are accorded full and equal rights to adequate housing, and to own land, housing and other property, by means including the upholding and protection of inheritance rights. States should also undertake administrative reforms and other necessary measures to give women the same rights as men to credit, capital and appropriate technologies, as well as access to markets and informationactive engagement for positive change: States should actively engage in the transformation of customs and traditions that discriminate against women and deny them security of tenure and equal ownership of, access to and control over land, as well as equal rights to adequate housing and to own housing and other property. In addition, States should ensure the right of women to equal treatment in land and agrarian reform, in land-resettlement schemes, and in ownership of property and access to adequate housing. Furthermore, States should take all other measures that are necessary to promote access to land and housing for disadvantaged women, particularly those who are unable to work for whatever reason, who live in poverty and/or who head households on their own

Authors and Publishers

Author(s), editor(s), contributor(s): 

B. Scholz
M. Gomez


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