The challenges of protecting women's property rights in Kenya: the case of women in Kitui Diocese

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Kampala International University; College of Humanities and Social Science
While traditionally, women in East Africa merely had access to land and other property through male relatives, social rules guarded against exclusion of women from land. Colonial influences such as individualization of land tenure and changing gender relations contributed to an erosion of the traditional protection mechanisms. Women's position became more vulnerable. Arbitrary eviction of women from land, especially women in polygamous marriages, divorced women and widowed, has increased in the past decades. As the feminization of poverty grows, women also face increasing constraints in obtaining access to affordable and adequate housing. Up to 1979, women's equal rights to land, housing and property were implicitly recognized as human rights. In 1979, the landmark Convention on the Elimination of Al Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted. This Convention has formed the basis for an increasing focus on the continuing violations of women's human rights and on the need to adopt specific provisions that explicitly recognize the security of tenure-whether through purchase, co-ownership, lease, rent, occupancy right or inheritance-regarding land, housing and other property are now firmly anchored in human rights law. This includes women's right to control such land and other property on equal terms with men. Customary law plays a very prominent role in the • disposal of a person's property, but unfortunately it treats women and girls as non- beneficiaries of the property of their father or husband, but only allows them usufruct rights, until when they marry or re-marry, when they relinquish such rights. In regard to testamentary succession, although most customary laws recognize the making of oral death-bed declarations, the purpose of these is normally to nominate an administrative successor rather than to apportion property. If the testator does apportion property, the general rule is that the person must not depart from the
A thesis presented to the School of Postgraduate Studies Kampala International University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree Master of Arts in Human Rights and Development
Women's Property Rights, Women in Kitui Diocese, Kenya