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Division of Property: Women's Land Ownership and Property Rights

Updated on October 11, 2017

Land ownership

women are entitled to own and inherit land
women are entitled to own and inherit land

Lack of property ownership and inheritance rights by women are influenced by numerous cultural, racial, political, and legal factors.Sometimes its often as a result of the worldwide prevalence of patrilineal inheritance customs, where only men are allowed to own property.

Apart from a few middle and upper class women, women on the whole do not acquire and own property. Culturally, women are not expected to own property and indeed under customary law women do not own land yet they are the ones who tilled and cultivated the land.A woman’s property has often been under the control of her father, and after she gets married the property would be under the control of her husband.

Division of property where the wife had no formal job

What happens in a situation where a couple has property registered under the husband and wife doesn’t go to work like her husband but stays at home and gives emotional and psychological support and cooks and provides for the man and children?Is such work recognized by the law as a contribution in the home?The answer is yes because she indirectly contributed and should therefore be considered during division of property in case of a divorce.The husband may not have evidenced that the wife has a share but the property though registered under the husbands name is considered as a joint venture.

Division of property after divorce

Under customary laws ,after a divorce property would be given to the husband and the woman would be left with nothing.Divorced women have in many occasions been denied their rights to property but various laws have in the recent times been put in place to stop this oppression.

In most countries where the married women property Act is widely used, whenever a question between a husband and wife as to the title or possession of the property either of them can apply to a court.Unlike in the past where all the property would go to the husband,under the married women property Act property acquired by women before marriage,goes to her upon divorce.Even in marriage,property acquired by the women out of her individual effort belongs to her upon divorce.Upon divorce not all property goes to the husband but instead it is divided according to the proportion of contribution by the parties.

The right of a widowed woman to the deceased's property

Apart from divorce another area where women’s rights to property have been derogated is widowhood. A number of customary laws as already discussed deny women the right to property. In the event where a woman is widowed, usually the in laws move in and confiscate the property leaving the widow and children usually with nothing. In most instances people scramble for the body of the diseased because there is a perception that whoever buries the body of the deceased inherits the property. This leaves most of the widowed women without any property as the relatives(brothers,parents,cousins) often take the body for burial and end up with most of the deceased’s property.

The concept of wife inheritance too denies widows the right to property. In some communities if a woman refuses to be inherited ,they are disposed and property and the children are all confiscated. Male members of the deceased’s person’s family always want to exercise control over the widow in this way and may resent widows who are inclined to be independent.

Despite the fact that many laws have been put in place to empower women to acquire property, many women are not aware of their rights and often continue being oppressed. In addition, some societies still hold onto their cultures and still don’t agree with the fact that women can and should actually be allowed to own property.However, there is hope for women due to the various laws that have been enacted in most countries which enable women to acquire and inherit property.


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