Women’s Inheritance Rights and Bargaining Power: Evidence from Kenya

    1. Study Information

       

      This section discusses the 2016 article by Mariaflavia Harari, “Women’s inheritance rights and bargaining power: evidence from Kenya.”1

      This study uses data from the Kenyan Demographic and Health Surveys that focus on health and demography with specific focus on female household members. Surveys were conducted in 1989, 1993, 1998, 2003, and 2008-9. The study compares data on women (daughters and wives) pre-1981, between 1981 and 1990, and post-1990. Before the 1981 Law on Succession Act, inheritance in Kenya was determined by the customary law of the ethnic group of the deceased, and, in the case of Muslims, by Koranic law, which gives women half the inheritance share that goes to men who have the same degree of relation to the decedent. The customary law of virtually all ethnic groups in Kenya denied daughters any right of inheritance. The 1981 reform made inheritance a matter of statutory law, and formally established equal inheritance rights for daughters and sons, regardless of religious affiliation or marital status. In 1990, an exception was created for Muslims, who reverted back to Koranic law. Some of the questions in the survey asked adult women historical questions (were you circumcised), and then current questions (is your daughter circumcised) thus being able to compare pre-1981 with post-1981 outcomes.

    2. Questions posed
      • What are the human capital effects of a legal reform that gave women in Kenya equal inheritance rights with men?
    3. Description of intervention

      Before the 1981 Law on Succession Act, inheritance in Kenya was determined by the customary law of the ethnic group of the deceased, and, in the case of Muslims, by Koranic law, which gives women half the inheritance share that goes to men who have the same degree of relation to the decedent. The customary law of virtually all ethnic groups in Kenya denied daughters any right of inheritance. The 1981 reform made inheritance a matter of statutory law, and formally established equal inheritance rights for daughters and sons, regardless of religious affiliation or marital status. Under the 1981 law, widows are entitled to an absolute interest in the personal and household effects of the deceased and a life interest in the rest of the estate. For polygamous marriages, the estate is divided among the households based on the number of children in the household. In 1990, an exception was created for Muslims, who reverted back to Koranic law for women and men.

    4. Context of findings

      Islamic Inheritance Law is complicated and who gets how much depends on the configuration of the family. However, the basic notion that women receive half of what men, who have the same degree of relation to the decedent, is fairly constant. Whether the decedent is a child or a parent whether the child has children and the parents have brothers and sisters all change the specific amount of inheritance that goes to the extended family. Only one-third of property can be disposed of by will.

      Kenyan customary law typically prohibits women from inheriting from their husbands or fathers. Widows have use rights to land unless they remarry. Some traditional communities practice levirate marriage, where widows marry their deceased husband’s brother or relative.

    5. Key findings

      There was a sizeable improvement in girls’ education (both absolute and relative to boys’ education) when education decisions were made post reform (1981), to the detriment of boys. This effect was attenuated if there were a large number of siblings.

      There was a significant decrease in the probability of being circumcised for girls who were children or teenagers after the reform, mostly in ethnic groups where FGM is not universal to start with. The presumption is that their mothers had greater bargaining power within the family post-reform.

      The study also found that women who came of marriageable age after the reforms tended to delay marriage and childbearing, indicating increased bargaining power within her family.

      Legal recognition of women’s inheritance rights can have an impact on women’s empowerment even in a context of poor enforcement and in spite of the persistence of deep-rooted social norms.

    NOTES
    1. Harari, M., (2016). Women's inheritance rights and bargaining power: evidence from Kenya. The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.