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Should women have equal inheritance rights?

BBC Africa HYS Team | 17:57 UK time, Tuesday, 19 April 2011

As Prince William prepares to marry Kate Middleton, the UK government is considering changing the laws on who can inherit the British crown. At present, if Prince William's first child is a girl, she will be by-passed if she has a younger brother. The general feeling in Britain, where The Queen has been on the throne for more than 50 years, is that this is unfair and outdated.

If the law is to be changed, the countries of the Commonwealth,19 of them African, will need to give their consent.  

And yet in much of Africa women do not have equal inheritance rights. Under customary law across many African countries, when a man dies, it is his adult sons who are are entitled to his property, at the expense of his daughters .The International Human Rights Law group highlighted that, in Nigeria, customary law has been used to settle at least 80% of land disputes to the disadvantage of women. 

Do women have the right to inherit land or titles where you come from? Should they have these rights? Have you been disinherited because you are a woman? 

If you would like to debate this topic LIVE on air on Wednesday 20 April at 1600 GMT, please include a telephone number. It will not be published. 

 

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    YOU DO NOT HAVE TO GO FAR TO FIND THE ANSWER... CHECK YOUR HOLY BIBLE...
    GOD CREATED WOMAN FROM A MAN...
    IN NIGERIA, THE INHERITANCE IS PURELY MALE TO THE THRONE... WHO DETERMINS THE SEX OF A FETUS... IT"S THE MALE SPERM NOT THE WOMAN'S EGG...
    WOMEN ARE GIVEN OUT TO MARRIAGE... THEY GO AND START THEIR LIFE WITH ANOTHER MAN... THE MALE REMAINS AT HOME AND BECOME CARE TAKER OF THE HOME... HOW CAN THE WOMAN THAT IS IN THE HUSBAND PLACE COME TO THE FATHER PLACE WITH THE HUSBAND HE MET ON THE STREEET TO INHERIT DAD'S PROPERTIES HE NEVER SWEETED FOR?.. NOW WHEN THEY'RE DIVOICED, HE WILL CARRY OR SHARTE DAD'S LAND?... THE NATURAL INHERITANCE BY THE MALE IS THE WAY... IN MY NATIVE HOME IN EDOLAND, NIGERIA, THE FIRST SON IS THE CUSTODIAL OF THE HOME... THE DAUGHTERS THAT GOES OUT TO THEIR HUSBANDS ALWAYS HAVE A PLACE TO COMEBACK WHEN THEY ARE HAVING FAILURE IN THEIR MARRIAGES... THE FIRST SONS ARE MANDATED BY CUSTOMARY LAW TO KEEP THE HOME AS A SAFETY NET FOR ALL THE CHILDREN... THE FAMILY HOME PASSES FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION... FOR A HISTORIC HOME TO BE GIVEN OUT TO A HUSBAND BY A DAUGHTER IS NOT WHAT THE EDO KINGDON WILL EVEN MENTION... THE BRITISH QUEST TO CHANGE THIS TRADITION WILL NOT BE APPROVED BY AFRICAN COUNTRIES OF THE COMMONWEALTH. THIS IS TOO MUCH FOR AFRICANS TO SWALLOW JUST AS THE GAY AND LESBIAN ISSUES.

  • Comment number 2.

    I am surprised that this should even be debated in this day and age by one of the most powerful countries in the world. Surely the UK should be promoting equal rights of men and women by example. I would like to point out that it is important not to generalise when it comes to inheritance laws in Africa, in some coutries there are new progressive inheritance laws in place working to harmonise existing customary laws as is the case in Eritrea. 'The situation in relation to owning land is that, generally, land is owned by men, not women; but a woman might own land if she is widowed, divorced, or, exceptionally, if she is an unmarried, but mature, woman. The contemporary law, for its part, states that equal status at marriage extends to equal access to land and capacity for owning it; it also requires the removal of any discrimination in property-sharing upon divorce or death, with the acknowledgement of the right of the wife to half the marital property irrespective of whether she contributed financially to its acquisition or not. However, this does not apply to Muslim women, who are governed by Sharia law'. My own research WOMEN'S ACCESS TO LAND AND PROPERTY RIGHTS IN ERITREA. by. TSEHAINESH TEKLE. February 1998

  • Comment number 3.

    Much as I would not want to deny the right of women to property or inheritance, it must be borne in mind that the initiators of the old law were aware of the vulnerability and weakness of women in handling such responsibilities.
    Despite the advances made by women in modern societies, it still is not prudent to entrust them with such enormous responsibilities without the assistance/support of their male counterparts. Research will tell you that the current queen has succeeded mainly because of the support of the males behind the scene.

  • Comment number 4.

    I strongly believe women should not be given the same rights of inheritance as their male counterparts. The old law should stand as it is

  • Comment number 5.

    I fear women. In Uganda the bill [Domestic Relations Bill] that should have helped bridge this gap unfortunately has been denied passing into law by the women MPs themselves who are legislators in parliament in Uganda.

  • Comment number 6.

    Among the Igbos of Eastern Nigeria, a woman can own land and property - and can even marry a fellow woman, provided that:
    1. She is unmarried and has publicly (via a ceremony) informed the community that she wishes to stay back in her father's house and raise children in her father's name
    2. She is married but widowed. If she has children, she will be holding the property in trust for her children until they are old enough to share. Only the sons share land, but if a daughter declares her intention publicly to stay back, she receives a portion. If a widow does not have children, no near kinsman can take away her husband's property until she is late or re-marries outside the husband's family.
    3. She is a mature married or single lady with enough money to purchase land or property. In this case however, she (and all women) will still not participate in the negotiation for the land she wishes to buy. A man must front for her.
    4. She receives a piece of land as a gift. A loving husband or father may give a piece of land as a special gift to a wife (especially where there are many wives). Land gift to a loved wife is never shared by all the sons. It belongs to the youngest son unless the mother refuses to give him due to some bad behavior.

    - Nkechi.

  • Comment number 7.

    Why not?

  • Comment number 8.

    The premise of this debate is fundamentally flawed. I thought this is about inheritance rights to the throng of the English monarch. By what means did it become an African affairs? Even if there are 19 African countries in the commonwealth, I bet that our votes would not matter anyway. Africans did not create the British monarchy, and they cannot, nor do they have the right, talk less of the power to alter its modalities.
    Regarding women right of inheritance in Africa however, first of all, in much if not all of Africa, land ownership is traditionally communal. That means no individual man or woman actually owns lands. Private ownership of lands is part of colonial legacy. That said, transfer of ownership of other properties in many ethnic cultures were made according to the gender of the parents who owned the property. Among the Igbo of Nigeria for instance, women acquired properties (both landed and movable). All properties acquired by men would be transferred to his sons upon his demise although he could chose to bequeath some movable properties to his daughters if he chooses, and he must do so while he is still alive, or at least have some close respectable confidant witness the pronouncement of his will while he is still alive. A woman would usually bequeath all movable properties to her daughters, while leaving all landed properties including cash crops to her favorite daughter in law. Now when you look into this equation, it means that the Igbo woman do actually have right of inheritance more than even the man since she could inherit from her mother as well as from her mother inlaw. The reason why a woman would not inherit landed property from her father's house is to mitigate the conflicts that may arise from accessing such rights remotely from the girl's marital home.

    Now I know some people would contend with me that African men tend to have more properties that women, therefore that creates an imbalance of power in property ownership. Post-colonially-speaking yes. But this is not the place for me to delve into the colonial legacies that inform this imbalance of power.

    In as much as I say however that individual ownership of land in present day Africa is a colonial legacy, I must point out that there is a positive side to that. Now individuals can buy land, at least in Eastern Nigeria, wherever they like, so long as they have the money, and transact with willing land owners. The implication is also that many women now are able to buy land, and thus both men and women can also transfer their landed properties to their male and female offspring the way they see fit. I am a living witness to this reality including in my own family. What has not changed however is that of the possibility of bequeathing landed property in the family home to a daughter who is married into another family and home. Now going by this debate, do we really want to change this one too? What implication would changing such a custom have for maintaining peace in families by allowing somebody who is married outside of the home to remotely access ownership rights in another home?

  • Comment number 9.

    Yes, many African traditional societies have inheritance passed from father to son. However, this may not be true as such is a practice is applicable only to the patriarchal society. Therefore, the position is reversed in matriarchal society where the inheritance is from mother's lineage.
    Now, it is upon the African countries to show the social citizenship responsibility to make their inheritance laws to accommodate everyone. I believe all children are equal irrespective of their gender and should be treated equitably in sharing of family resources.

  • Comment number 10.

    Africa is not the west, some laws are still outdated and to the disadvantage of women. Funny how this works out because the women is the BACKBONE of african society, not just the man's cook, cleaner, carier, child-bearer, phsychologist and bedmate (= wife). Every man who cherishes and values his wife should write a testament, protecting her interest. If, by ill luck, the man passes and leaves behind a wife with little children and she cannot at least inherit, what is she going to use to take care of her children? Chances are she will not be working (married women and a carrier of their own... frowned upon). If there is no will she will be left with nothing, becuase greedy brother in-laws and uncles will come and take over what they did not sweat for. Until the law is changed to equally favor both men and women, a will is the only way for women to secure their inheritance.

  • Comment number 11.

    What does a proposed change in U.K. as to who inherit the crown has to do with women inheritance rights in African countries? When would Western media stop lumping 53 countries in Africa as one country? A better comparison of women inheritance rights in the U.K. should have been with the rest of Europe not Africa. Every issue or subject of discussion is always country specific, except when the country is in Africa, then an entire continent is lumped into one. No wonder you hear Europeans and Americans saying they are going to Africa or they went to Africa. Where or which country in Africa? Africans are smart enough to know and say that they are going to Italy or the U.S. not Europe or the Americas.

  • Comment number 12.

    As you already knew that it is a kind of CUSTOM and TRADITION, there will be no need to persuade any African to do otherwise, the British can go ahead and change their own, after all they took it from Africa KINGDOM and don't know how to preserve it!!!

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 14.

    Indeed they should have equal rights. The British government should go ahead with or without commonwealth support. Most African states are still a festering sore that Dr Livingtone observed more 150 years old and you can detect from some of the comments. Have you ever asked yourself why in Africa we are the global epicentre of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic? Its attitudes like those in EDOLAND, NIGERIA

  • Comment number 15.

    Its high time we started considering all children equal, take for example in an African context where one has no child- there is too much talk. Now here is a situation God has given you a girl child then you deny has inheritance- Is that fair? Women/girls need to be considered for inheritance. When a man in a family marries a mean woman do you think the sisters of the man can access the wealth left by the parents, please do not discriminate women/girls for God's sake. Nowadays women have even done much better in terms of leadership and I feel even in such cases of inheritance women can do better than men. Motherly heart is enhanced highly. Mayulu Lusaka-Zambia [Personal details removed by Moderator]

 

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