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equality home: Promoting and protecting the inheritance rights of
B; Gomez, M, Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions
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over a decade, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)
has been campaigning to realise the human right to adequate housing
for everyone, everywhere. Through our advocacy efforts, we have
come to recognise that taking a gender-neutral approach to housing
and housing rights does not always ensure that women’s speci. c
needs, concerns and rights with respect to housing are properly
understood, addressed and championed. COHRE has therefore adopted
a gender perspective in its housing rights work, taking into account
that the impacts of housing rights violations experienced by women
are often quite different and more severe than those experienced
rights to land and adequate housing are systematically denied —
the majority of the well over one billion inadequately housed persons
in the world are women. Yet the most blatant gender-speci. c violation
of such rights is the denial of women’s rights to own and inherit
housing, land and property. Women throughout the world, after the
death of a husband or father, are denied these basic rights and
deprived of their homes and lands. The effects are devastating:
destitution and homelessness, increased vulnerability to HIV/AIDS
infection, physical violence, and other grave violations of women’s
fundamental human rights.
In this report,
the COHRE Women and Housing Rights Programme (WHRP) documents the
tragic reality 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.
As this report
demonstrates, 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.
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.
rights are human rights. Under the major international human rights
instruments that these sub-Saharan States have rati. ed, they have
clear obligations to respect, protect and full such rights.
Potential solutions to the problem of discrimination against women
in the housing and inheritance spheres fall into two main categories:
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
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.
The task is
daunting, but not impossible. Women’s rights advocacy organisations
in Africa are leading the way and making signi. cant progress towards
women’s equality. The COHRE Women and Housing Rights Programme (WHRP)
is committed to working closely with these local women’s rights
groups in a spirit of co-operation and solidarity.
like to express its deepest thanks to those organisations that so
generously assisted in the production of this report. We hope that
it provides useful information on existing practices related to
the status of women’s inheritance rights in a variety of countries
and cultural contexts.
we urge all concerned and appropriately placed actors to take account
of and act upon the concrete recommendations which we make in various
parts of this report, and which are highlighted and listed in Section
5, where COHRE proposes constructive actions aimed at the realisation
by all women of their rights to land, adequate housing and, speci.
cally, inheritance of land, housing and other property.
wishes to express its sincere thanks to the Netherlands Ministry
of Spatial Planning, Housing and the Environment (VROM, Ministerie
van Volkshuisvesting, Ruimtelijke Ordening en Milieu) for its generous
support of this project.
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