Ensure Women's Property and Inheritance Rights

Last updated May 2010

Ensure Women’s Property and Inheritance Rights 

Legislation should require a comprehensive review of all formal and customary laws to ensure women have an equal right to housing, land and inheritance rights. Laws should explicitly allow females to inherit property and should mandate that customary systems grant women equal inheritance rights. Inheritance laws should ensure equality between males and females’ right to inheritance in cases of intestacy. Legislation should create and support enforcement and monitoring mechanisms, such as a police unit, to facilitate women’s inheritance claims. Legislation should include public awareness programs aimed at educating rural and urban women and girls on their rights, remedies and how to enforce them. Legislation should require studies on inheritance laws and practices throughout the country to understand the nature and extent of discrimination against women and girls in inheritance and property rights. See: COHRE, Women and Housing Rights Issue Brief 7, p. 8. See: Maltreatment of Widows; Harmful Practices.

Promising Practice: Laos, Philippines and Vietnam have inheritance laws providing equal inheritance among all children in intestacy, regardless of sex. The laws also provide for the surviving spouse to inherit equal shares with children. See: Anna Knox, Nata Duvvury, Noni Milici, Connecting Rights to Reality: A Progressive Framework of Core Legal Protections for Women's Property Rights, ICRW (2007).

Legislation should vest all dowry, bridal gifts and property gifted to the bride in her name. For example, Pakistan’s Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act (1976) states that “all property given as dowry or bridal gifts and all property given to the bride as a present shall vest absolutely in the bide and her interest in property however derived shall hereafter not be restrictive, conditional or limited” (Article 5). ‘

In the case of a dowry death, inheritance laws should mandate that the victim’s property, including her dowry, be passed to her children to be held in trust for them until they are of legal age. Where there are no children, inheritance laws should provide that the victim’s property be passed to her parents.

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