Middle East: Publication: "In Search of Equality" surveys women's inheritance rights

Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions' new publication: "In Search of Equality: A survey of Law and Practice related to Women's Inheritance Rights in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region" available for download.
Inheritance is a fundamental issue with regard to how wealth is transferred within a society, and it directly relates to the protection of a woman’s housing and land. It reflects some of the systemic reasons for women’s disproportionately high levels of poverty and housing insecurity around the world.
Women’s rights to inherit housing and land are enshrined under international human rights laws. Protections for women’s equality and rights to non-discrimination are outlined in numerous conventions, covenants and resolutions, which additionally defend women’s rights to housing, land and property ownership, access and control, and the right to inherit on an equal basis with men.

Yet the WHRP has found that under many systems of law and society, women - regardless of their marital status - cannot own or inherit land, property and housing in their own names. The protections of international law often do not reach the ground, obstructed by discriminatory common law, non-accessible judicial systems, and inequitable customary legal systems and traditions.

The reasons why women do not inherit are complicated. It is not only an issue of establishing the necessary legal frameworks that allow women to own and inherit property, although this element is certainly crucial. Gender-biased policies, customary law, traditions, social norms and attitudes that women cannot and should not own housing, land and property independently from a man, all serve to prevent women from realizing their rights to inherit.

In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, women produce up to 80 percent of all food, and perform over two thirds of the labour, however, suffer disproportionally the subordinating effect of discriminatory and oppressive laws, customs and traditions, especially as regards to housing and land. In most of this region, men control household land (and the house on that land) because of the deeply ingrained patrilineal system of property ownership. For most women, access to housing, land, and property are entirely dependant on their relation to male relatives. Often, even if women are allowed to own property, they lack control of that land or housing.

Other obstacles also emerge. Poverty and HIV/AIDS play a large role in the realization of inheritance rights. Due to increasing poverty, protections formerly provided (at least on a limited basis) under traditional systems have eroded, and women are even more vulnerable to extreme violations of their rights.