IN SOME African communities, women still do not have the right to own property of their own.
When they are married, they either transfer their property to their husbands or they are not able to dispose it without the permission of their husbands.
In most regions in Africa and Asia women are still denied the right to own and inherit real property, especially land. In many places rights come and go as unending political conflicts come and go. This exclusion of women from owning land keeps them and their children in squalid conditions in the overcrowded cities and it keeps them poor.
Widows are evicted upon the death of their husbands and women can be evicted from their marital home when their husband takes a second or third wife. On the other hand, although women often make up the majority of small farmers they are not allowed to own the land they cultivate. However, throughout Africa women are finding a voice and things are changing, albeit slowly.
Historically the church’s position on this matter followed the Biblical texts such as Genesis 3:16 where God tells Eve that her husband will rule over her, and passages where wives are listed along with a man’s other goods and chattels. This view is comprehensively confirmed in the New Testament: Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord (Colossians 3:18; cf. 1 Peter 3:1 and Ephesians 5:22).
But with present situation where a number of women are hard working on equal terms with their husbands, is it right for women to be still denied the right to own their own property?
Jean Pierre of Kicukiro doesn’t think so. “The world has changed. Women have come a long way and it’s just right for them to have their own financial security. With divorce rate or separation on the increase, women should have the freedom to have their own property. They are the ones who take care of the children when a marriage hits a rock.”
He adds that: “The full maintenance and support of a married woman is the entire responsibility of her husband, even though she might be richer than he is. She doesn’t have to spend a penny. At the time of divorce, there are certain guarantees during the waiting period and even beyond for a woman’s support. If the widow or divorcee has children, she’s entitled to child support. In addition, woman should have the right of inheritance, after she herself was an object of inheritance in some cultures. Her share is completely hers and no one can make any claim on it, including her father and her husband.”
“Unto men (of the family) belongs a share of that which Parents and near kindred leave, and unto women a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, whether it be a little or much - a determinate share,” he adds.
Diana Umutesi of Remera Catholic Church says that her property is her property and her husband has no right to dictate what she should do with it. “I own a house in Kicukiro that I bought with my own money. The house is registered on my name because I wouldn’t take chances. When something happens to my husband, I would still have security for me and my children. My husband too has his own property, but I don’t want to count on that because generally in Africa, his people may decide to grab his property when he’s called by God.”
Issa Ibrahim, of Nyamirambo says that when it comes to financial security, Islamic law is more tilted in many respects in favour of women.
He says: “Women are equally qualified and allowed to engage in financial dealings and property ownership. According to Islamic law women can own, buy, sell and undertake any financial transaction without the need for guardianship, and without any restrictions or limitations - a situation unheard of in many societies until modern times.”