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African Countries Discuss Protecting Women's Property Rights


Government and civil society leaders from Ghana, Kenya and Uganda have resolved to work together to protect women's right to property in Africa.

The Center on Housing Rights and Evictions says women in Africa are systematically denied ownership and inheritance rights because of deep-set traditions.

Speaking at a seminar the group is holding in Ghana, the Center's women and housing rights coordinator, Birte Scholz, says civil society in Africa needs to work to change policies that deny women the right to adequate housing.

"The most important thing is to find out what strategies are being employed to combat some of the violations that are going on, from disinheritance to domestic violence - domestic violence is a denial of the right to adequate housing, you are living in insecurity - to lack of housing, or lack of ability to obtain proper housing due to HIV/AIDS increasing," he said.

Scholz says in the majority of African societies women's access to land is determined by their relationships to men - as wife, daughter, mother, sister or daughter in-law. She called for the elimination of traditions that violate women's rights to own property.

Flavia Kyomukama, who is representing the National Forum for People Living with HIV Networks and Associations in Uganda, says women living with AIDS are most often the victims of forced evictions.

"Because what has come up in Africa is that when women are found to be HIV positive, husbands evict them from their homes," she said. "When husbands die, the wives and the children are thrown out by the paternal relatives, and they grab all the property. So, we feel we need to find a strategy to protect people living with HIV, their housing rights, their shelter rights, their property rights."

She says though policies exist to protect women against property grabbing in some African countries, they are not fully enforced.

Mayor Prisca Auma, of Kisumu, Kenya's third largest city, says it is important to give women economic independence.

"When your husband dies, and they [husband family] allow you to stay within the family, you will plow that land, you will harvest from the land, but you cannot put it into your own name, that is customary," said Auma. "But, I think those are the laws that we want changed. We want the government to help us change [them]."

The Center on Housing Rights and Evictions says one third of the world's women are homeless or live in inadequate housing. Seminar participants say a majority of them are found in Africa.

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