Expropriation without compensation a direct threat to rights of women – IRR
1 December 2020
Weakening the property rights of women in Africa risks significantly undermining their equality of citizenship.
This troubling warning is contained in Property Rights Belong To All: Women and Property Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa, a research report by IRR project manager Terence Corrigan.
Published on 25 November to coincide with the start of #16DaysOfActivism against gender-based violence, the report is an apt reminder of the importance of empowering women as property owners as a means of protecting them against the worst forms of socio-economic hardship and suffering.
This is especially pressing in the South African context, given the deliberate efforts to fundamentally weaken the property rights of women through the proposed amendment of the Bill of Rights and such legislative instruments as the 2020 Expropriation Bill.
Far from strengthening the position of women property owners, these political initiatives risk, through legislative injustices, exacerbating the challenges women property owners face.
The report notes: “Political calculations have stood in the way of achieving gender equality, even where gender equality is an annunciated goal of governance. In Uganda, for example, the expansion of the political participation of women has not been sufficiently matched by reform of the legal and socio-cultural environment.
Marriage, inheritance and succession continue to disadvantage women. The government has been reluctant to intrude on this aggressively, largely owing to fears of alienating traditional authorities and the established cultural orientation of many Ugandans, as well as the influential religious institutions. Women parliamentarians, meanwhile, meet in a caucus and have attempted to push these issues. But they have found limited support within their respective parties to get such legislation passed; the country’s politics tends be dominated by an ‘old boys club’ who are indifferent to these issues.
“Two important pieces of legislation that would address (among other things) discriminatory property rights – the Marriage and Divorce Bill and the Succession Act – were not supported by any major party.”
The ANC’s planned fundamental changes to the property rights framework in South Africa are guaranteed to further weaken the rights of women property owners.
Instead of progress, this would see a dangerous regression in women’s rights in Africa. The determination of the ANC and their ideological allies to pursue expropriation without compensation (EWC) is strikingly at odds with their often-stated ambitions to empower women.
Says Corrigan: “This is a defining issue for Africa as a whole, and not just for women on the continent. The denial of property rights to women limits their economic participation to the detriment of the broader society. In denying them this, it imposes insecurity on them and also makes them vulnerable to abuse at the hands of husbands and families. This is a profoundly important developmental issue.”
Adds Hermann Pretorius, Head of Strategic Initiatives for the IRR: “There is hypocrisy, almost of a misogynistic, patriarchal nature, in politicians paying lip service to the empowerment of women, while seeking simultaneously to undermine the rights of women by using legislative power to strip them of their right to consent to the sale of what is rightly theirs.
“Let’s be clear. What EWC means is that any politician or political party can seek to give force of law to the active disempowerment of women who own or want to own property, rolling back perhaps a century of social progress. This is nothing short of scandalous.
“South Africa must choose between empowering women and charting a new course of seeing African women secure in their ownership of assets, or the disaster of EWC. EWC will see a violation of women’s property rights on a scale last seen during the darkest days of apartheid.
“Perhaps, had the National Party had access to the social media of today it too would have posted messages with compassionate, platitudinous hashtags while callously seeking to dismantle the rights of countless black women.”
Pretorius notes: “EWC would not only imperil the financial security and ambitions of South African women through the economic devastation it would be sure to bring, but also see women being stripped of the right to rightfully own what they’ve worked hard to earn. Today, South Africans have a choice: empowering our sisters and mothers, or destroying their rights through EWC.”
Issued by Hermann Pretorius, IRR Head of Strategic Initiatives, 1 December 2020