Angelique Mukakalisa, 28, a resident of Rubengera Sector, Karongi District was denied the right to inherit family property. She said her father regarded women as inferior to men and, therefore, not deserving equal consideration.
Born in a family of six, four girls and two boys, Mukakalisa said boys got a lion’s share of the land while girls were either given a cow, goats or smaller portions of land depending on their age.
“We were given less but never put up a fight because that is what tradition dictates. We instead engaged mediators,”Mukakalisa said.
Mukakalisa represents millions of women who are discriminated against as a result of negative perceptions on women.
There are policies on gender balance in accessing inheritance. However, some parents have opted to ignore them and stick to traditional values that have given men preferential treatment.
According to a study commissioned by the Gender Monitoring Office (GMO) in August 2011, gender disparities arise from the slow change in attitude, and ignorance of the law on succession.
The study highlights gender inequalities in the law enacted in 1999, especially in allocating equal distribution of inheritances.
“Most respondents said parents do not treat their children equally when it comes to land distribution. In particular cases, male children are often given a large portion of the land while girls are only given domestic materials,” the report reads in part.
Despite the fact that Article 43 of the existing law guarantees equal land rights between girls and boys, the report blamed the same law for not clearly stipulating when the distribution should be done.
Article 42 of current law only indicates that; “this partition shall be regarded as the accomplishment of parents’ duties to educate their children and provide them with a personal patrimony.
“Despite the fact that the law guarantees equality between both sexes, some parents are still bound by culture, which does not recognise girls rights to property other than domestic materials known as “ibishyingiranwa” (basic materials needed by the girl for her marriage),” the GMO report noted.
That is what pushed responsible government offices, including the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, Ministry of Justice and the Parliament to amend the current law to make it more proactive to gender mainstreaming, according to Gender Minister, Oda Gasinzigwa.
In a consultative debate, between members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Political Affairs and Gender with Gasinzigwa and Justice Minister Johnston Busingye, last week, a conclusion was that the new law should get rid of any ambiguity.
Busingye said to ensure the national principle of gender mainstreaming, partition should be considered as a personal donation rather than being an obligation to parents and guardians to their recipients.
“Ascending a partition ‘Umunani’ should be in form of a gift, not an obligation for heredity as it used to be in the ancient days,” Busingye said.
Umunani is the property parents give their children when they come of age. It is perceived as a responsibility on the side of the parents.
During amendment debates, legislators and the line ministers agreed that such a traditional “accomplishment of parents” was abused by mostly male descendants, who at a certain point forced their parents to give them their portion, which created domestic violence and murder amongst family members.
“We are trying to ensure that the girl child is protected by making sure that gender mainstreaming is practical,” Gasinzigwa said.
According to Article 33 of the draft Bill, a parent is free to choose who to give but it will not be compulsory.
“In this case, the parent shall, at their discretion, choose when to give his donations and make a will, and each child shall not necessarily be entitled to such ascending partition,” reads the bill in part.
Annie Kairaba, the Director at Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development (RISD) noted that the new law will help minimise land disputes.
RISD is a local non governmental organisation that focuses on advocacy and promotion of land rights.
“Most of our (RISD) studies have shown that family wrangles originated from land disputes and ascending partition has been the main problem. There is a loophole in law implementation, we not only want to the new law to close the gap but also policy makers should ensure that people at the grassroots are aware of the law and all provisions,” Kairaba said.
Alfred Kayiranga Rwasa, the chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Political Affairs and Gender, said the new policy would ensure gender equality.
The Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Children (NCC), Zaina Nyiramatama, also recommended the move, saying it would reduce pressure on parents as well as preventing family disputes and domestic violence that originated from unfair allocation of family resources among children.
“Some children did not want to work and generate their own wealth. They would sit back and wait for parents to give them property. This created laxity, especially among boys. Some children could even murder their parents so as to inherit property. We need to make children responsible for their lives; work hard and save for their own future, and this is what the new law should address,” Nyiramatama said.
The new law is currently being scrutinised by Parliament and is expected to be passed this week.