When the daughters of Mr Ibrahim Wathuta, of Nyeri County, went to court for being prevented by their kin from inheriting their late father’s property, no one knew that would sound the death knell on a gender injustice perpetrated on women for ages.
Women have been at the mercy of men and were made social, economic and cultural underdogs after being denied rights to inherit their parents’ property just for being married.
Customary laws and traditions which state that only sons should benefit from a parent’s estate have been overtaken by time. As by per the new rules, a child is a child, married or not, whether maintained by the deceased before his death or not.
With the introduction of the Bill of Rights in the 2010 Constitution, children are allowed to inherit their father’s property — contrary to the past when judges, presented with property distribution cases, relied on customary rules. The traditional elders’ backing of the ruling is the icing on the cake.
The economically independent woman has been put on a pedestal. She can pay her bills without having to rely on a man. Nowadays, men prefer such a woman for a wife because she won’t bring financial strain into a marriage.
Marriages have been broken by poverty and over-reliance on one partner. But how shall we have this independent woman, if she is denied her rights to inherit property?
Everybody is all smiles when receiving the dowry of a daughter or a sister. But when it is time to share the estate, she is — unfairly — left out. And our men have a thousand and one justifications for that.
Patriarchal societies see a woman only as a source of wealth; girls are married off prematurely for dowry, which is used to educate the boys.
Some communities even force a woman to get married so that she does not demand a piece of the family land. Relatives will call her names for having children in her father’s compound. Woe unto her if they are boys; her brothers’ wives, the sisters-in-law, will be insecure and become overly protective of the property — lest their sons get a smaller share.
In some cultures, a married woman who goes back to her father’s home to ask for her share of property is cursed. A woman, they say, belongs to the clan into which she is married and should, therefore, not “rob” her father’s clan of its property!
They do not, however, think of the possibilities made open by having title to land. A woman with a title deed can borrow a personal development loan more easily using it as security.
It is to no one’s surprise that, following the landmark ruling, Maendeleo ya Wanaume chairman Nderitu Njoka argued that the courts are biased in favour of women and men are being marginalised.
The counter-argument by the menfolk and some lobbies to empowerment of the girl-child, that men are being marginalised, strikes me as a ploy to withhold social, economic and cultural power from women.
The court ruling was not, however, made to stir hatred and division among families. The unmarried and divorced daughters have always been given land in many families, though smaller than the sons’.
The country should embrace the court ruling in a bid to end marginalisation of women.
Ms Gatwiri is a journalism student at Moi University, Eldoret. [email protected]