Women and the property rights paradox in Uganda: So much Protection, So much vulnerability

FLAVIA ZZIMULA

Women’s property rights are simply their rights to own, acquire through purchase, gift, or inheritance, to manage, administer, enjoy and dispose of tangible and intangible property including land, housing, money, bank accounts and livestock.These rights are very important because they are fundamental to women’s security, legal status and even some times survival. Despite existing laws, Uganda is still facing disparities in asset ownership. Very many Women silently lack access to and control of property which is a significant factor in the subordinate status of women.

Land has since time immemorial been the most valued asset and owning it one of the most treasured aspirations. For women however, access, let alone ownership, is still constrained by archaic laws and customs. This has negatively impacted women’s ability to equitably participate in production. While there’s scope for amending the Land, Succession and Divorce Acts to give women enhanced rights over land, a major challenge remains women’s inability to enforce whatever rights they have under the existing legal regime.

Women’s ‘property rights are well protected at International, regional and national level through different conventions to which Uganda is party. Article 17(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, emphasizes the right to property ownership without any interference. Article 16, is clear on equal rights of spouses at, during marriage and at its dissolution.

Article 13 of the Convention on the Elimination of Violence against Women CEDAW, requires state parties to take measures to eliminate discrimination against women in areas of communal and social life to ensure women’s equal rights to bank loans, mortgages and other forms of financial credit. This right is further entrenched in Article 15.

Even though the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights ICCPR does not codify the right to property it contains provisions that can protect women from any form of discrimination even in regards to property. Article 26 is clear on equal protection of all by the law without discrimination on any ground.

The International Convention on Economic Social and Cultural Rights ICESCR prohibits discrimination of any kind based on race, colour, sex, religion, political otheropinion, national or social origin, property or birth. General comment No.7, was very clear on forced eviction.

Regionally, the African Convention on Human and Peoples Rights ACHPR is not as specific on property but its Article 18 provides that state parties should ensure elimination of discrimination against women.

The African Union protocol on the Rights of Women (Maputo Protocol) Article 2, binds states to avoid discrimination against women. Article 7 recognises women’s equal rights to an equitable sharing of joint property deriving from separation, divorce, annulment and marriage.

The Beijing Platform for Action announced in September 1995 required that women’s rights to inheritance, ownership of land and property should be recognised and that governments should take legislative reforms and measures to remove disparities.

Nationally, unlike the pre 1995 Legal frame work,the 1995 Constitution of Uganda as amended under Articles 21, 26, 32, 33 if well interpreted all point to equal protection of property ownership of property.

The 1998 Land Act Cap 227, attempts to secure rights of women, under section 39, usually referred to as the consent clause. This gives some security to women as it prevents dealings in the subject land by the husband or men without the consent of the other partner in this case the wife or woman. Enforcement of this clause however calls for proof of certain requirements which fails its purpose.

As a result even with such a legal frame work, there’s still limited ownership by women of their deceased parent’s and husbands property. Many women continue to be denied a share of property at dissolution of marriage just because they cannot prove legal marriage as required by certain law.

The enforcement of women rights has always been undermined by the patriarchal ideology system in Uganda which tends to overshadow whatever rights exist under the law. This has not been helped by conflicts in the legal regime which make land inheritance patria-lineal (Succession Act Cap 162) which squarely puts ownership of registered land in the hands of men. There’s therefore a need to resolve discordance in the law before gender rights can be fully consummated.

Also, there is limited awareness among women and the general public of the gender rights the law confers upon them. According to recent studies, women are about twice as illiterate (43%) compared to men (26%). This suggests that much as there should be efforts to close the gaps in the law, innovative ways of creating awareness among this group would need to be devised especially given the likely perception gaps between the elite woman driving these campaigns and the less privileged victim who may be hostage to fears that are little appreciated.

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