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Legal Concepts (7)

There is limited research focused specifically on changing social norms and land rights, including inheritance. Broadly speaking, any intervention that empowers women can create social change for the women or for their households or communities, including things like women gaining knowledge of their rights or being supported in going to dispute resolution bodies. Social norm change, in the larger cultural context, requires involving the community, men and boys, women and girls, community leaders, elders—the people who create and abide by the cultural context.

Although legal change does not, in itself, create social change, a progressive legal framework can create a space for social norm change where none existed before. Studies from India indicated that the legal reforms that enabled daughters and sons to inherit equally, increased women’s likelihood of inheriting land, although they did not close the bias gap.[1] As well, legal quotas on women’s participation in the political process or on governing bodies related to land and other natural resources create a starting place for women’s engagement, even though that engagement goes against social norms.[2] Under any progressive legal framework, local capacity to implement or to accommodate implementation by others is also necessary for social change to become real and sustainable.

A report looking at women’s agency and social norms found that evidence suggests that public actions are needed on two broad fronts: first, to enhance women’s and girls’ own sense of capacity and their aspirations to depart from existing limiting gender norms and their associated behaviors (Perova and Vakis 2013), and second, to change behaviors of women and men, boys and girls so that social norms become gender equal. Politics and collective action are important on both fronts.[3]

Behavior change communication with men and boys as well as households and communities has been shown to be effective, especially in the areas of intimate partner violence and women’s health. Involving community leaders and including communities in conversations about social change also shows promise. For example, in Senegal, community-based awareness campaigns enlisted the support of religious leaders to successfully reduce the accepted practice of female genital cutting. In Afghanistan and Ethiopia, community awareness projects have successfully reduced the incidence of early marriage (Mackie 2000; Malhotra et al. 2011).[4]

The report also suggests using broadcast media and provides examples of success, such as:

  • In South Africa, exposure to a television series focused on domestic violence was linked to an increase in help-seeking and support-giving behaviors.
  • In India, the arrival of cable television was associated with significant increases in women’s reported autonomy, decreases in the reported acceptability of wife beating, and decreases in reported son preference. Female school enrollment also increased, along with increased birth spacing. The impacts were stronger where women held more traditional attitudes—in places where women had formerly held high preferences for sons, the share preferring sons fell 20 percentage points with the arrival of cable television, compared with a 12 percent decline overall (Jensen and Oster 2009).
  • In post-genocide Rwanda, radio programming designed to challenge social norms of deference to authority had substantial impacts in terms of increasing willingness to express dissent and reducing the likelihood of listeners deferring to local officials when solving local problems (Paluk and Green 2009).

[1] Deininger, K., Goyal, A., & Nagarajan, H. (2013). Women’s inheritance rights and the intergenerational transmission of resources in India. The Journal of Human Resources, 48(1): 114-141.

[2] Cook, N. J., Grillos, T., Andersson, K. P., (2019) Gender Quotas Increase the Equality and Effectivness of Climage Policy Interventions, Nature Climate Change 9, 330-334; Beaman, L., Chattopadhyay, R., Duflo, E., Pande, R., and Topalova, P. (2009). ‘Powerful Women: Does Exposure Reduce Bias’, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol. 124, no. 4, pp. 1497-1540

[3]Klugman, Jeni; Hanmer, Lucia; Twigg, Sarah; Hasan, Tazeen; McCleary-Sills, Jennifer; Santamaria, Julieth. 2014. Voice and Agency : Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity. Washington, DC: World Bank Group

[4] Klugman, Jeni; Hanmer, Lucia; Twigg, Sarah; Hasan, Tazeen; McCleary-Sills, Jennifer; Santamaria, Julieth. 2014. Voice and Agency : Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity. Washington, DC: World Bank Group.

In my opinion, laws against polygamy are ineffective at best and harmful to women at worst. Even though women very often do not want their husbands to take a second wife, and a second wife (and children) can stretch already limited resources, making polygamy illegal does not stop polygamy. But, if polygamy is illegal, subsequent marriages will be illegal and unregistered, and subsequent wives will have no legal rights to their husband’s income or assets. Second wives are often women who are vulnerable because they are young and have little or no income or choice about who they marry. I do not know who the “we” refers to in your question, but I think thoroughly understanding the issues related to polygamy for all women would be a critical first step. Where does polygamy occur? Under what conditions does polygamy occur? What is the attitude toward it in rural areas? Urban areas? What is the current law? What issues does the current law raise for first and second or subsequent wives? Who wants to change the law and why? What could the unintended consequences be? If polygamy, which was legal, is outlawed, the law should be very careful not to apply to current polygamous marriages—should not apply retroactively because that could be very harmful to women and children already in a polygamous family.

When did Tigray, SNNP, and Oromiya implemented their regional family codes and which components of these laws differ from the Federal Revised Family Code of 2000 (Proclamation No. 213/2000)? Your library includes a link to the English version of Amhara’s Family Code of 2003 (Proclamation No. 79/2003), but I cannot find English versions for the other regions. According to Hallward-Driemeier and Gajigo, Amhara, Oromiya, and Tigray updated their family codes between 2000 and 2005 and SNNP did so between 2005 and 2011. I would like to know the precise years in which these regions, and especially SNNP, implemented their family codes.

I do not know of copies of the Revised Family Law in English for any state except Amhara.
Tigray passed its own Family Code in 1998, which served as a model for the Federal Code. The Tigray Region Family Code was revised in 2007.
The Oromia Regional State Family Code, Proc. No. 83/2004 passed in 2004.
The SNNP Family Code was passed in 2004, so implementation would have started in 2005. The Southern Nation, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State’s Family Code Proc. No. 75/2004, Debub Negarit Gazetta, 9th Year, Extraordinary Issue No. 1 passed in 2004. I was unable to find it in English, but here’s a comparison of the Federal Family Code and the SNNPR Family Code.

This is a big question, but fortunately, much has been written about gender inequality and land rights in Uganda. There are two documents that I think will be useful. First, is an overview of the law and practice related to women’s land rights—a practice guide— Women’s Land Rights in Uganda and the second is the Ugandan Land Policy.

In brief, the practice guide points out some of the legal issues that continue to limit women’s rights to land (for example a weak inheritance law) and customary law practices that maintain inequality between men and women.

What can be done about it?  Uganda has a very gender positive Land Policy that suggests a complete understanding of the issues facing women. If the Land Policy were to be implemented, gender equality in land rights would be much more likely.

With tenancy in common, each person holds (owns) a portion of the whole piece of land, although that portion is not demarcated. If a husband and wife hold land as tenants in common and one of them dies without leaving a will, his/her share will be part of his/her estate and will be distributed to his/her heirs. When land is held in common, the owners have a right to do what they want with their portion of the land. For example, a portion of the land can be sold to someone outside of the tenancy in common.

In contrast, joint tenure means that more than one person holds (owns) the whole of the property. Land held in joint tenure can only be acted on with the consent of all the owners, as each owner is acting for all owners on the whole property. For example, for land to be disposed of, all the joint owners must agree to do so. While still alive, a joint owner may transfer his/her interest to all the other owners, but to no other person. In some property systems, if a joint owner dies, his/her interest in the land will vest in the surviving owner(s). This is called the right of survivorship. In other places, if one person dies, the land automatically becomes tenancy in common, and the land is divided among all the owners with the deceased owner’s land going to his/her heirs.

Note: Joint tenure can also be called joint ownership. Tenancy in common can also be called common tenure or common ownership.

Category: Legal Concepts

No. The right to renounce one’s inheritance is universally recognized throughout the world. In most cases heirs renounce their inheritance in order to avoid unwanted expenses, responsibilities, or debts that are associated with the estate. A review of literature on the issue of renunciation found that the right to renounce a right to inherit property is an important safeguard against unwanted debt in France1, Germany2, Lithuania3, Italy4, the Czech Republic5, Spain6, all of Latin America7, Burkina Faso and India8, Israel and Turkey9, Tunisia10, Jordan11, and many other countries.

The majority of countries that have addressed renunciation have done so by employing procedural safeguards. Many of these are countries where Islamic law is recognized as the formal law of the land, but customary law, which is often more restrictive for women than Islamic law, is also practiced.

The courts that administer the division of inheritance in Palestine have introduced procedures to protect women’s inheritance rights and address social pressures on women to renounce their rights. Under that law, acts to renounce rights must be registered and witnessed. The inheritance process also mandates periods for reflection to safeguard, women from urgent family and social pressure. Where the inheritance of land is concerned, the law requires that women must first register their rights before they may renounce them.

Similarly, in Jordan, amendments to the Personal Status Code in 2010 led to an instruction to offer protection to women’s inheritance rights. The instruction provides a three-month period for reflection after the division of inheritance rights during which heirs cannot renounce rights, except in special circumstances. If a woman would like to renounce her inheritance rights after that time, the court must first explain to her the consequences of the renunciation and, in the case of immovable property such as land, the property must first be registered in the name of the heirs before it can be renounced and transferred.12

In Italy, a public notice of renunciation is required. When a successor renounces her inheritance, she must give public notice of her refusal before a Notary Public or a public officer, since the act of renouncing an inheritance cannot be made in a private document.13

In many Arabic countries, land inherited by women can be exchanged or renounced for cash.14


Rollot, Catherine, 2011. “Death & Debt: More French Heirs Renounce Succession of Departed, Indebted Parents.”
Siegwart, Holgar, 2013. “How to Disclaim an Inheritance in Germany.”
Government of Lithuania, 2001. The Law of Succession.
Italian Inheritance.
Government of Czech Republic, Civil Code, Articles 463-468.
Walton, Clifford Stevens, 2003. The Civil Law in Spain and Spanish America.
Diana Deere, Carmen and Magdalena Leon, 2001. Empowering Women: Land and Property Rights in Latin America.
FAO. Women’s Rights to Land and Other Natural Resources.
Layis, Aharon. Women and Islamic Law in a Non-Muslim State.
10 Ben Salem, Lilia. Tunisia, in Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Progress Amid Resistance, ed. Sanja Kelly and Julia Breslin (New York, NY: Freedom House; Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010).
11 World Bank, 2013.  Jordan Country Gender Assessment. Economic Participation, Agency And Access To Justice In Jordan; Poverty Reduction And Economic Management Department, Middle East And North Africa.
12 Id.
13 Italian Inheritance.
14 Sait, M Siraj and Tempra, Ombretta, 2015.  Land Fragmentation in Muslim Communities: Traditional Challenges And Innovative Consolidation Approaches, University Of East London, United Kingdom.

No. Very few countries have universal joint tenure, which means that all property brought into marriage or acquired in marriage in any manner is jointly held. A presumption of joint tenure for married couples means that there is a presumption that a married couple holds property acquired during marriage jointly. Often there are exceptions for property that is inherited or property that is gifted to one of the married couple. Thus, in most cases, even when married couples have joint tenure, ancestral land is excluded.

Some countries allow separate property to become joint property if the non-owner contributes to the value of the property (pays for improvements, for example).

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