Threat of HIV/AIDS Boosts Case for Women’s Property Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa
Monday, August 11, 2008 12:48 PM

Caroline Sweetman has written a paper for Oxfam International arguing that, paradoxically, the threat of HIV/AIDS may be an impetus for Sub-Saharan African countries to begin providing women with more equal property rights. Women in this region often have no rights to property, and are therefore dependent on the male head-of-family for survival. Thus, if AIDS claims the life of a woman’s husband, she is left to resort to desperate measures to ensure the survival of herself and her children. Surviving often means being sexually exploited by entering into the sex trade or participating in sexual rituals to ensure the protection of a woman’s in-laws, practices that in turn put women at a much greater risk for HIV.


Patriarchal inheritance systems in which women are viewed as "junior partners" in marriage are intrinsic to many Sub-Saharan African cultures and are hard to change. Men, usually the ones in control of the government and of customary laws, see changing these systems as too costly or as a threat likely to break up their culture’s lands. However, Sweetman argues that the effect of HIV/AIDS in widowing many women and rendering them economically dependent has had enough of a negative effect on these countries’ economies that its threat can be used as bargaining power for those advocating to achieve equality in property rights for women.


For the full paper, click here.


Compiled from: “How Title Deeds Make Sex Safer: Women’s Property Rights in an Era of HIV,” Caroline Sweetman, Oxfam International, June 2008.