Women's property rights

Women's property rights are property and inheritance rights enjoyed by women as a category within society at any point in time. The patterns and rights of property ownership vary between societies and are influenced by cultural, racial, political, and legal factors.[1][2][3] The lack of control over both productive and non-productive resources that is apparent in both rural and urban settings places women at a reduced level of advantage in areas of security of home, maintaining a basis for survival, and accessing economic opportunities.[4][5] Development-related problems faced across the globe have been increasingly linked to women’s lack of property and inheritance rights, especially in regard to land and property ownership, encompassing areas such as low levels of education, hunger, and poor health.[6] Thus land property rights, through their impact on patterns of production, distribution of wealth, as well as market development, has evolved as one of the prerequisites of economic growth and poverty reduction.[7]

Defining land rights

Property rights are claims to property that are legally and socially recognized and enforceable by external legitimized authority.[8] Broadly defined, land rights can be understood as a variety of legitimate claims to land and the benefits and products produced on that land.[9] Inheritance, transfers from the State, tenancy arrangements, and land purchase are all constructs of land rights.[10] These rights can be in the form of actual ownership or usufruct, the rights of use.

Global overview

Women play an integral part in the production of food and goods, from work in fields, factories, and home-based business across the globe.[11] There is a critical relationship in the role that women play and the sustenance provided for families, communities, and nations.[11] Globally, an estimated 41% of women headed households live below the locally defined poverty line, with one-third of the world’s women either homeless or living in inadequate housing facilities.[12] The additional exclusion of women from access to land pushes them towards cities, where they often join the ranks of increasing number of women-headed households in slum areas.[12] However, through the processes of globalization and industrialization, there has been a noted increase in the numbers of women entering in the waged labor sectors.[13] Rural women are solely responsible for half of the world’s food production, and in developing countries, as much as 80% of food crops.[14] More recent estimates claim that half of the world’s food and in developing countries, between 60-80% of food crops are the results of growth from seeds that have been planted by a woman’s hand.[15] This persistence of traditional divisions of labor, in which women hold primary responsibility for producing food, as well as other labor-intensive tasks such as gather water and fuel, contributes to the large percentage of women informally working in rural areas.[16] The roles that women play differ significantly by region, with an average of 43% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, ranging from 20% in Latin America to 50% in Eastern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.[16] Thus, in addition to increasing vulnerability and reducing status, exclusion of women from the decision making process and the control and transfer of land has also led to a decrease in food security and sustainable development.[8]

Shifting systems

Though women’s lack of formal control over land and resources has long persisting historical roots, economies and societies undergoing extensive change have created deep implications for ownership rights.[17] In subsistence production systems, access to land was determined by status within the family rather than actual ownership rights; resulting in both men and women having “user rights” to produce food for their families. The combined processes of industrialization and globalization have disrupted longstanding livelihoods and systems of production, forcing many families to focus more on income-generating activities than on subsistence practices.[6] However, increasing women's access to property rights has numerous significant economic benefits for the overall community as well as psychological and social benefits for the lives of women, themselves, especially in agricultural societies. Economically, when women have greater access to land-ownership in rural areas, which started being implemented by the government following the 20th century mandates on property laws in order to ultimately promote greater gender equality, women begin to independently cultivate their own land (given to them either by the state itself, allocated otherwise through the private market, or passed on by a male relative), form women collectives to learn more about agricultural practices as well as profit-generating skills and ultimately, have yielded more output from that given land than the previous owners.[18] Further, the psychological benefits from increasing women's access to property rights is that this leads to a significant decrease in instances of marital domestic violence.[19] All of these factors would contribute positively to the economic growth of that given community in the long-term by experiencing greater overall labor force participation rates, increased income generation and greater investment in child healthcare and education, also thereby combating malnutrition and breaking out of the poverty cycle.[20]

Impact of gender bias

The typical process of agrarian transformation under which labor shifts from agriculture to nonagricultural has occurred slowly and with heavy gender-bias.[8] Because women’s property rights are often assumed through the security of the oftentimes, male, household head, some inheritance laws allocate less property to female heirs than male heirs.[21] Ongoing adherence to male-dominated traditions of property ownership has generally meant that women cannot take advantage of the wide range of benefits associated with ownership and control of property.[5] According to the Land Tenure Service at FAO, poverty is inversely correlated with household land ownership and direct access to land minimizes women’s risk of impoverishment and improvements the physical well-being and prospects for children.[22]

Land titles

The process of titling has been administered with strong gender bias, with women usually denied equal ownership rights.[6] Furthermore, property and inheritance claims are generally processed through loosely organized administrative bodies consisting of local leaders and clerks with limited legal training. Closer inspection of the decision makers, notes a body of mostly males.[6]

Patriarchal property rights

Women who are potentially able to meet their subsistence needs on their own may threaten to leave the household if they are not given a large share of the surplus.[23] However, due to patriarchal property rights, husbands control over the allocation of wives’ labor time, husbands can make decisions that reduce the value of their wives’ alternatives to marriage.[23] Both the right to manage land and control the income from production, encompassing secure rights to land access, have much deeper implications than mere access. For many women, access to land and property are essential to the production of food as well as sustainable livelihoods, but are dependent on natal and marital affiliations. In many countries, women can lose rights to land when there is a change in marital status, including marriage, divorce, or even death of a spouse.[24]

Male dominance

Because of the worldwide prevalence of patrilineal inheritance customs, both productive resources and property such as household goods have ended up in the hands of men and not women. When only men have rights of inheritance or family succession, women have little opportunity to improve their status or living conditions within the family and community. Consequently, they are rendered dependent on male relatives for survival and have little say over how property is used to generate income or to support families. Additionally, within patrilineal communities, there is a strong resistance by men towards endowing women, especially daughters, with rights to land access.[2]

Barriers to change in status

Inadequate laws and systems of enforcement

While there are a growing number of contemporary laws, as framed by the modern State, which give inheritance rights to daughters when they are recognized as individuals among the communities, the process of marriage and the traditionally patrilineal customs have remained largely unchanged.[2] Thus, there remains a mismatch between marriage practices and inheritance laws, with the strength and biases of the marriage practice often overriding inheritance laws. This is also evidenced in the process of dowry practices. In many cultures, a daughter’s dowry is viewed by her family as her direct portion of her inheritance, even though it may be typically absorbed by the new husband and his family. Thus, while in some communities women do have the formal rights to inherit lands, the social representation of inheritance in the form of dowries and the strength of the practice of marriage trump given laws.[24]

Lack of awareness existing laws and insufficient understanding of legal redress options

Levels of education, oftentimes products of restrictions on women’s interaction with institutions which are primarily composed of men, create a mystique and illusion about legal actions.[25] Additionally, ideologies about the conduct that a woman displays, normally taking the form of docility, can bring shame to the idea of challenging persisting gender inequalities in law, policy and land rights.[26]

Prevalence of traditional attitudes and practices

Gender ideologies, or beliefs and stereotypes of the expected characteristics of a particular gender, provide a barrier for women to gain property rights and enhance status.[2] These ideologies may take the form of assumptions of the role that a woman plays in society, her needs or capabilities, which thus affect the way that an issue is framed and implemented.

See also


  1. ^ Meinzen-Dick, Ruth S.; Brown, Lynn R.; Sims Feldstein, Hilary; Quisumbing, Agnes R. (August 1997). "Gender, property rights, and natural resources". World Development. 25 (8): 1303–1315. CiteSeerX doi:10.1016/S0305-750X(97)00027-2.
  2. ^ a b c d Agarwal, Bina (October 1994). "Gender and command over property: a critical gap in economic analysis and policy in South Asia". World Development. 22 (10): 1455–1478. CiteSeerX doi:10.1080/135457097338799.
  3. ^ Deere, Carmen Diana; Doss, Cheryl R. (2008), "Gender and the distribution of wealth in developing countries", in Davies, James B., Personal wealth from a global perspective, Oxford New York: Oxford University Press (UNU-WIDER), pp. 353–372, ISBN 9780199548897
  4. ^ Agarwal, Bina; Agarwal, Bina (May 2005). "Marital violence, human development and women's property status in India". World Development. 33 (5): 823–850. doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2005.01.009.
  5. ^ a b Steinzor, Nadia (March 2003). "Women's property and inheritance rights: improving lives in changing times - final synthesis and conference proceedings paper" (PDF). US Agency for International Development (USAID), NGO Small Grants Program's "Conference on Women's Property and Inheritance Rights" 18–21 June 2002. Nairobi, Kenya: Development Alternatives, Inc: A Women in Development Technical Assistance Project, Office of Women in Development, (USAID). Retrieved 5 June 2014.
  6. ^ a b c d Grown, Caren; Gupta, Geeta Rao; Kes, Aslihan (2005). Taking action achieving gender equality and empowering women (Task Force on Education and Gender Equality). London Sterling, Va: Earthscan. ISBN 978-1844072224.
  7. ^ Besley, Timothy; Ghatak, Maitreesh (2010). "Property rights and economic development". Handbook of Development Economics (World Development). 5 (Chapter 68): 4525–4595. CiteSeerX doi:10.1016/B978-0-444-52944-2.00006-9.
  8. ^ a b c Agarwal, Bina (2002). "Are we not peasants too? Land rights and women's claims in India" (Pamphlet). SEEDS Pamphlet Series. 21.
  9. ^ Schlager, Edella; Ostrom, Elinor (August 1992). "Property-rights regimes and natural resources: a conceptual analysis". Land Economics. 68 (3): 249–262. CiteSeerX doi:10.2307/3146375. JSTOR 3146375.
  10. ^ Allendorf, Keera (November 2007). "Do women's land rights promote empowerment and child health in Nepal?". World Development. 35 (11): 1975–1988. doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2006.12.005. PMC 3657746. PMID 23700354.
  11. ^ a b Kevane, Michael; Gray, Leslie C. (1999). "A woman's field is made at night: gendered land rights and norms in Burkina Faso". Feminist Economics. 5 (3): 1–26. CiteSeerX doi:10.1080/135457099337789.
  12. ^ a b Benschop, Marjolein (22 April 2004), "Women's rights to land and property", in UN-HABITAT, Women in human settlements development - challenges and opportunities, New York: Commission on Sustainable Development, pp. 126–128
  13. ^ "The World's Women reports - World's Women 2000: Chapter 5 - Work". United Nations Statistics Division. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  14. ^ Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (1997). Women and Food Security. FAO FOCUS.
  15. ^ Gupta, Geeta Rao (14 October 2009). "Guest column: when women farm, crops and economies grow". Truth about trade and technology. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
  16. ^ a b Raney, Terri (2011), "The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11" (PDF), Women in Agriculture: Closing the gender gap for development (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, New York Missing or empty |title= (help)
  17. ^ Lastarria-Cornhiel, Susana (April 2005), "Gender and Property Rights Within Postconflict Situations - issue paper no. 12 (PN-ADB-672)" (PDF), United States Agency International Development (USAID) Development Experience Clearinghouse (DEC), New York Missing or empty |title= (help)
  18. ^ Agarwal, Bina (2005). "Marital Violence, Human Development and Women's Property Status in India" (PDF). World Development. 33 (5): 823–850. doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2005.01.009 – via Bina Agarwal.
  19. ^ Agarwal, Bina (2005). "Marital Violence, Human Development and Women's Property Status in India" (PDF). World Development. 5 (5): 823–850. doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2005.01.009 – via Bina Agarwal.
  20. ^ Quisumbing, Agnes E. (1999). "Intrahousehold Allocation and Gender Relations: New Empirical Evidence" (PDF). The World Bank. Working paper series, no. 2: 1–66 – via The World Bank Development Research Group.
  21. ^ Blau, Francine D; Ferber, Marianne A; Winkler, Anne E (1998). The economics of women, men, and work (third ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. ISBN 9780135659793.
  22. ^ Crowley, Eve (August 2001), "Land rights (policy brief 2 of 12)", in Quisumbing, Agnes R.; Meinzen-Dick, Ruth S., Empowering women to achieve food security (Focus 6), International Food Policy Research Institute - A 2020 Vision for Food, Agriculture, and the Environment, pp. 3–4
  23. ^ a b Braunstein, Elissa; Folbre, Nancy (2001). "To honor and obey: efficiency, inequality, and patriarchal property rights". Feminist Economics. 7 (1): 25–44. doi:10.1080/713767276.
  24. ^ a b Giovarelli, Renee; Wamalwa, Beatrice (2011). Land tenure, property rights, and gender: Challenges and approaches for strengthening women's land tenure and property rights (USAID Issue Brief - Property rights and resource governance briefing paper #7). New York: United States Agency International Development (USAID). Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  25. ^ Agarwal, Bina (January 2003). "Gender and land rights revisited: exploring new prospects via the state, family and market". Journal of Agrarian Change. 3 (1–2): 184–224. doi:10.1111/1471-0366.00054.
  26. ^ McCreery, John L. (April 1976). "Women's property rights and Dowry in China and South Asia". Ethnology. 15 (2): 163–174. doi:10.2307/3773327. JSTOR 3773327.
Doo Aphane

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Elizabeth Christ Trump

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Individualist feminism

Individualist feminism, sometimes also grouped with libertarian feminism, is feminist ideas which emphasize individualism.

Isabella Beecher Hooker

Isabella Beecher Hooker (February 22, 1822 – January 25, 1907) was a leader, lecturer and activist in the American suffragist movement.

Kanakalatha Mukund

Kanakalatha Mukund (née Narasimhan) is an Indian historian.

Land law

Land law is the form of law that deals with the rights to use, alienate, or exclude others from land. In many jurisdictions, these kinds of property are referred to as real estate or real property, as distinct from personal property. Land use agreements, including renting, are an important intersection of property and contract law. Encumbrance on the land rights of one, such as an easement, may constitute the land rights of another. Mineral rights and water rights are closely linked, and often interrelated concepts.

Land rights are such a basic form of law that they develop even where there is no state to enforce them; for example, the claim clubs of the American West were institutions that arose organically to enforce the system of rules appurtenant to mining. Squatting, the occupation of land without ownership, is a globally ubiquitous phenomenon.


Landesa Rural Development Institute is a nonprofit organization that partners with governments and local organizations to secure legal land rights for world's poorest families. Since 1967, Landesa has helped more than 100 million poor families in 35 countries gain legal control over their land. When families have secure rights to land, they can invest in their land to sustainably increase their harvests and reap the benefits—improved nutrition, health, education, and dignity.

Landesa partners with governments, world leaders, NGOs, foundations, donor agencies such as the World Bank, USAID, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and others to design and implement land laws, policies and programs that provide opportunity, further economic growth, and promote social justice through land rights.

Based in Seattle, Landesa has program offices in Beijing, China; Bhubaneswar, Delhi, Kolkata, Lucknow, and Patna, India; Yangon, Myanmar; and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Landesa currently works in China, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Myanmar, Rwanda, and Tanzania.

Louise McKinney

Louise McKinney née Crummy (22 September 1868 – 10 July 1931) was a Canadian politician and women's rights activist from Alberta, Canada. She was the first woman sworn into the Legislative Assembly of Alberta and the first woman elected to a legislature in the British Empire. She served in the Alberta legislature from 1917 to 1921 as a member of the Non-Partisan League. Later she was one of the Famous Five who campaigned successfully for the right of Canadian women to be appointed to the Senate. A former schoolteacher and temperance organizer, she came to Alberta in 1903 as a homesteader.

Married Women's Property Act 1882

The Married Women's Property Act 1882 (45 & 46 Vict. c.75) was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that significantly altered English law regarding the property rights of married women, which besides other matters allowed married women to own and control property in their own right.

The Act applied in England (and Wales) and Ireland, but did not extend to Scotland. The Married Women's Property Act was a model for similar legislation in other British territories. For example, Victoria passed legislation in 1884, New South Wales in 1889, and the remaining Australian colonies passed similar legislation between 1890 and 1897.

Married Women's Property Acts in the United States

The Married Women's Property Acts are laws enacted by the individual states of the United States beginning in 1839, usually under that name and sometimes, especially when extending the provisions of a Married Women's Property Act, under names describing a specific provision, such as the Married Women's Earnings Act. The Married Women's Property Acts helped to rectify some of the difficulties that women faced under coverture, the British common law system that subsumed married women's ability to own property, wages, enter in to contracts, and otherwise act autonomously to their husband's authority. After New York passed their Married Women's Property Law in 1848, this law became the template for other states to grant married women the right to own property.

Mary Lynde Craig

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Misogyny () is the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls. Misogyny manifests in numerous ways, including social exclusion, sex discrimination, hostility, androcentrism, patriarchy, male privilege, belittling of women, disenfranchisement of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification. Misogyny can be found within sacred texts of religions, mythologies, and Western philosophy and Eastern philosophy.

The inverse is misandry; is the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against men or boys.

National Women's Rights Convention

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Robert Dale Owen Memorial

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Rosa L. Segur

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Sarah T. Bolton

Sarah Tittle Bolton née Barrett (December 18, 1814 – August 4, 1893) was an American poet and women's rights activist who is considered an unofficial poet laureat of Indiana. Bolton collaborated with Robert Dale Owen during Indiana's 1850–1851 constitutional convention to include the recognition of women's property rightsin the revised state constitution of 1851. Bolton was little known outside of Indiana, and her writings have been mostly forgotten. "Paddle Your Own Canoe" (1850), her most famous poem, and "Indiana," a poetic tribute to her longtime home, are among her best-known poems.


Sharia (, Arabic: شريعة‎ [ʃaˈriːʕa]), Islamic law or Sharia law is a religious law forming part of the Islamic tradition. It is derived from the religious precepts of Islam, particularly the Quran and the Hadith. In Arabic, the term sharīʿah refers to God's immutable divine law and is contrasted with fiqh, which refers to its human scholarly interpretations. The manner of its application in modern times has been a subject of dispute between Muslim traditionalists and reformists.Traditional theory of Islamic jurisprudence recognizes four sources of sharia: the Quran, sunnah (authentic hadith), qiyas (analogical reasoning), and ijma (juridical consensus). Different legal schools—of which the most prominent are Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanbali and Jafari—developed methodologies for deriving sharia rulings from scriptural sources using a process known as ijtihad. Traditional jurisprudence distinguishes two principal branches of law, ʿibādāt (rituals) and muʿāmalāt (social relations), which together comprise a wide range of topics. Its rulings assign actions to one of five categories: mandatory, recommended, neutral, abhorred, and prohibited. Thus, some areas of sharia overlap with the Western notion of law while others correspond more broadly to living life in accordance with God’s will.Historically, sharia was interpreted by independent jurists (muftis). Their legal opinions (fatwas) were taken into account by ruler-appointed judges who presided over qāḍī's courts, and by maẓālim courts, which were controlled by the ruler's council and administered criminal law. Non-Muslim (dhimmi) communities had legal autonomy, except in cases of interconfessional disputes, which fell under jurisdiction of qadi's courts. Ottoman rulers achieved additional control over the legal system by promulgating their own legal code (qanun) and turning muftis into state employees. The Ottoman civil code of 1869–1876 was the first partial attempt to codify sharia.In the modern era, sharia-based criminal laws have been widely replaced by statutes inspired by European models. Judicial procedures and legal education in the Muslim world were likewise brought in line with European practice. While the constitutions of most Muslim-majority states contain references to sharia, its classical rules were largely retained only in personal status (family) laws. Legislative bodies which codified these laws sought to modernize them without abandoning their foundations in traditional jurisprudence. The Islamic revival of the late 20th century brought along calls by Islamist movements for full implementation of sharia, including reinstatement of hudud corporal punishments, such as stoning. In some cases, this resulted in traditionalist legal reform, while other countries witnessed juridical reinterpretation of sharia advocated by progressive reformers.The role of sharia has become a contested topic around the world. Attempts to impose it on non-Muslims have caused intercommunal violence in Nigeria and may have contributed to the breakup of Sudan. Some Muslim-minority countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe recognize the use of sharia-based family laws for their Muslim populations. Some jurisdictions in North America have passed bans on use of sharia, framed as restrictions on religious or foreign laws. There are ongoing debates as to whether sharia is compatible with secular forms of government, human rights, freedom of thought, women's rights and banking.

Ursula Bright

Ursula Mellor Bright or Ursula Mellor (5 July 1835 – 5 March 1915) was a British activist for married women's property rights.

Women in Namibia

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