Recently Wikigender and the Land Portal had organized an online discussion on ways to secure women’s rights to own land [for more click here]. Women may constitute approximately 50% of the human society (not counting India and China that are trying to push that percentage to zero!), however they own less than 2% of the land worldwide. Why is this so?
I think that regardless of gender-neutral laws, even modern democracies like India that proudly flaunt their Constitution, have people in decision making capacities, as in government, law etc. who still apply the law within context of their old cultural mindsets. So for example in a recent High Court ruling in Bombay regarding property dispute, the Court gave its ruling in the most gender-biased language that almost regards women like pieces of furniture that are moved from their fathers’ houses into their husbands’. It said:
“When a daughter gets married and leaves the house of the father to reside with her husband, she ceases to be a member of the father’s family and becomes a member of the family of the husband where she has got certain rights under the law. After marriage when she goes to the house of the parents, legally she is only a guest in the house and does not have a legal right to continue there. She can stay there as long as her parents permit her but she cannot force herself on her parents in the house.”
Another issue that is almost never addressed is that women themselves are culturally conditioned to forsake their rights and they do so for they fear repercussions and rejection from society. So for example Mary Roy (mother of Indian author Arundhati Roy) had won a landmark case in the Supreme Court in 1986, where she challenged the so called Personal-Laws (special laws that apply to minority communities in India) for property rights for her community, the Syrian Christians, in the State of Kerala. According to the old law, women could inherit only 1/4 of their father’s property or Rs. 5000/- , whichever was less. After she won the case, daughters and sons became entitled to equal inheritance. This is what Arundhati Roy says of how this change has been received by women in her book The Shape of The Beast:
The Supreme Court ruling in her case gave women equal inheritance with retrospective effects from 1956. But actually no woman go to court to claim this right. Everyone [had objected to the law and] said you can’t have it going back to 1956 because the courts will be flooded with complaints. It didn’t happen. The churches [in Kerala] had will-making classes. They taught fathers how to disinherit their daughters. It’s a very strange kind of oppression that happens there. Women from Kerala work all over India and all over the world. Many of the world’s nurses are from Kerala. They send all the money they earn back home to support their families. And yet the nurses, who earn comparatively huge salaries, will get married, pay a dowry [with their own earnings], and end up having the most bizarrely subservient relationships with their husbands.