Pros of having women own property - The Star

2 December 2020 - Women in Africa remain excluded from the benefits of property ownership, and this must receive the attention of African policy makers and society at large.

Terence Corrigan

Women in Africa remain excluded from the benefits of property ownership, and this must receive the attention of African policy makers and society at large.

Our new study, Property Rights Belong to All: Women and Property Rights in SubSaharan Africa, has been released to coincide with the beginning of 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children.

Property rights are human rights and denying them to any group is a serious transgression and has numerous subsidiary effects.

Where women find it difficult to own their means of sustenance and livelihood, they are denied opportunities for mobility, and are vulnerable to abuse.

For too long, the curtailment of women's rights has reinforced their subordinate position in society. Although recognising the progress that has been made in extending legal rights to own property, the report points to extensive residual discrimination in property holding.

The World Bank's Women, Business and the Law shows that some 40% of the world's economies impose some discrimination on women in regard to ownership and control of assets. Across the 48 countries in SubSaharan Africa, the proportion is two thirds.

Most commonly, they fail to recognise nonmonetary contributions to household work something of considerable importance where marriages fail and property is divided. Ten countries have discriminatory property ownership regimes, while 13 do so in inheritance rights for children, and 13 in respect of spouses. Eight countries grant differential rights to spouses in respect of control of family property.

In many instances, a combination of these factors coexist: Even where legal systems acknowledge equality between men and women, practical considerations frequently prevent women from asserting their rights. Sociocultural norms and customary law often constitute further barriers. Securing property rights for women across the continent will require multifaceted strategies.

Litigation has forced change in some contexts. A more durable solution requires activism, education and alliance building in shifting public opinion, and creating a new paradigm within which there is nothing exceptional about African women being property owners and the creators of their own fate.

This is the work of years, if not generations, but it is one that must be undertaken on both moral and developmental grounds.

Terence Corrigan is a project manager at the IRR, and author of the report. 

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