LANDnet advocating for women’s succession rights

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LANDnet Uganda was founded in 2012, as a network engaged in research, capacity development and policy advocacy on land, gender, agriculture and natural resources management. Because of the role LANDnet is envisaged to play in the political economy of Uganda and the East African region, it is registered as a company limited by guarantee as well as under the NGO Amendment Act.

LANDnet’s value proposition is to go beyond the rhetoric of gender mainstreaming and develop together with its stakeholders the gender footprint that marks how within the land sector there is progressive reduction in gender inequality both in the function of land governance and in the practice of tenure security.

One of LANDnet’s thematic areas is that of women’s land rights. Strategic goal one of the women’s land rights strategic plans provides for influencing law and policy for practice change in land governance to enhance security of tenure for women. To us, the predominance of patriarchy in law, policy and practice ensures that land has owners but they are not women. Our work is towards not just equity but equality in land ownership, access and control.

Strategic goal four provides for promoting gender sensitivity and awareness in Uganda. We believe that land is about power, knowledge and agency to bear on the analysis of gender relations and struggles.
LANDnet Uganda with the support of Trocaire is currently implementing a project titled “Enhancing Women’s Land Rights through the reform of the Succession law.”

The project puts gender at the forefront of the amendment of the Succession Law to ensure that gender equality and equity will be ingrained into the fabric and letter of the new law. This is to be done through research, legal drafting and advocacy. It therefore, targets policy makers, government officials, local governments and communities that interface directly with the law. It specifically targets women whose interests often disappear at the planning phase.

Land is legally acquired in three ways; namely through succession or inheritance, purchase or as gift inter vivos. However, land rights in Uganda particularly in rural areas are acquired through birth rights and are traced through the patrilineal descent and this filters through statutory laws. Whereas some individuals acquire these rights before the demise of their benefactors, the majority acquire these rights through inheritance.

Discrimination against women on land access, control and ownership has its roots in the cultural background of Uganda. Culture prominently discriminates against women and girls over ownership and control of land while relegating their benefits to only access and use. The succession and inheritance practices in Uganda have further hindered women’s right to property while the current Succession Act does not offer conclusive protection for women.

In Uganda, succession is provided for under various laws. These include the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995, the Succession Act, the Administrator Generals Act, the Estates of Missing Persons (Management) Act, the Administration of Estates (Small Estates) (Special Provisions) Act, the Probate (Resealing) Act, the Trustees Incorporation Act, the Public Trustee Act, the Administration of Estates by Consular officers Act, the Administration of Estates of Persons of Unsound Mind among many others.

Amongst other challenges within the law one of the most prominent is that the law on succession is largely unused as culture and tradition was predominantly relied upon to operate in matters of succession and given that most of our cultures are patriarchal in nature, women are often left in the side lines and marginalised. This also implies that the actors involved in implementation of the Act were faced with challenges of implementation as the communities were largely unaware of the law and only resorted to the formal institutions when customary procedures had failed. This is an issue that we recognise will take more than law reform to address but can be tackled through systematic sensitisation of communities to influence change.

Other notable issues with the law include the provisions in the law were evidently discriminatory, unrealistically light penalties in the law, complex and expensive procedures for acquiring probate and letters of Administration.

Centralisation of the Office of the Administrator General increase costs and impeding access for people further from the central part of the country.

Law and Advocacy for Women in Uganda (LAW-Uganda) challenged some sections of the Succession Act as inconsistent with Articles 21(1) (2) (3) 31, and 33(6) of the Constitution, which provides for gender equality and freedom from discrimination. In April 2007, these sections were declared as discriminatory and therefore null and void. The outcome of the Constitutional Court ruling has served the purpose of rendering the blatant discriminatory provisions in the Succession Act redundant. However, the ripple effect has been to create ambiguity, especially among the institutions that handle succession and administration.

The Administrator General’s office reveals that the pronouncements of the Constitutional Court left their office with a practice gap and as a result they continue to grapple with the challenge of delivering justice in the absence of the requisite statutory provision in some key areas. With no clear law governing the division of property and other succession matters, women have continued to lose their property to their male relatives with no available legal redress. And yet 10 years later, an amendment is yet to be effected.

Uganda as a signatory to various international and regional legal instruments that champion the cause of equality and non-discrimination of persons is under obligation to fulfil its commitments to eliminate discriminatory provisions in its laws. And whereas the Constitution sets a rights standard for matters of succession and inheritance in Uganda, the Succession Act Cap 162 is yet to follow suit.

The resulting effect of the current state of the law is multi-faceted and has manifested in some of the following ways. Women and orphans are among the most vulnerable to land insecurity, due to entrenched socio-cultural and gender norms that privilege adult men over women and
children.

A 2003 study by Deningner and Castagnini revealed that the probability of land conflict is 14 per cent higher for a household headed by a widow and 48 per cent higher for one headed by a separated woman than for a male headed household.

Increased vulnerability to property grabbing following death of the male head of the household: A 2013 Oxfam study estimated that the prevalence rate of property grabbing among female widows in Northern Uganda (West Nile, Acholi, Lango, Teso and Karamoja) was 30 per cent. Oxfam also found that 68 per cent of cohabiting women had experienced property grabbing as opposed to 25 per cent of cohabiting men. The Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs’ 2008 household survey also reflected the vulnerability of orphans to property grabbing, reporting land conflict in 41.3 per cent of child-headed households, the most common scenario for land conflict found in the study. In the majority of instances, widows and their children were denied their legally entitled share by other relatives who made claims upon the estate property. Indeed, in Gilbourn et al’s 2001 study, 48 per cent of women and 47.8 per cent of orphans responded that property grabbing was a problem in their community, and many of these women and orphans believed paternal relatives to be the most likely to steal inherited property. Fears were also expressed that maternal relatives and other community members would also attempt to grab property (13.6 per cent).

The proposed legislative program for the financial year 2017/2018 released on June 7 reflected that the Succession Amendment Bill was not to be considered during the year clearly indicating that the matter is still not being treating with the urgency it duly deserves.

We urge therefore that all relevant government institutions treat this as a matter of urgency and amendment the law taking into considerations of all vulnerable groups and to bring the Succession Act Cap 162 into conformity with the rights standards set by the Constitution and International conventions to which Uganda is a party.

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