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Land and property reform

  • Legislation should ensure that women have equal rights to occupy, use, own and inherit land and other commodities, there is an equitable distribution of property upon dissolution of a marriage, and women can be the beneficiaries of land tenure reform. (See: Good Practices in Legislation on “Harmful Practices” against Women, UN DAW (2009), Section 3.7.1.2)
  • Government policies should recognize women as beneficiaries of land rights, without regard to their marital status. Drafters should ensure that laws recognize women’s right to administer property and conclude contracts. CEDAW, Art. 15(2).
  • Titles to land grants to married couple should be jointly titled in both spouses’ names.
  • Drafters should ensure that these protections extend to consensual and non-formal unions and customary marriages. Drafters should pass laws subjecting consensual, religious and customary unions to the same laws governing civil unions.

Illustrative Examples:

Ethiopia grants land allocations to both women and men irrespective of marital status and Eritrea grants individual rights to land to all farmers, irrespective of sex or marital status. (See: Anna Knox, et al., Connecting Rights to Reality: A Progressive Framework of Core Legal Protections for Women’s Property Rights, International Center for Research on Women) 

Nicaragua requires joint titling of land for married couples and recognizes joint titles even when titled under only the head of household. El Salvador provides a presumption joint ownership of all assets, including land, that belong to a married couple. See: World Bank, Women, Business and the Law – Using Property.  

Mozambique’s Family Law of 2004 recognized customary law and non-formal marriages, and included provisions that ensure that women who have lived with a man for more than a year are entitled to inherit property. The law also provides a definition of household for purposes of land distribution, as a “set of people living in the same home under the authority of the head of the household, married or in de facto union.” While the law’s recognition of both formal and consensual unions is a positive measure, designating a “household” as the beneficiary unit for land allocations can be problematic. It may exclude women where traditional heads of households are male or where policies fail to encompass jointly-headed households. Policies should recognize women, irrespective of marital status, as a specific beneficiary group. (See: UN-Habitat, Policy Makers Guide to Women’s Land, Property and Housing Rights across the World, 2007) 

The government of West Bengal in India recognized women’s rights to own land as part of its land redistribution policy, which issued joint titles to all land under the program.  However, lack of education for women about the policy resulted in many women beneficiaries being unaware that they were land owners under the joint titling system. See: Property Ownership and Inheritance Rights of Women for Social Protection – The South Asia Experience (ICRW, 2006), p. 38.

 

 

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