On March 16, she lost her husband. Then she lost everything. The deceased family shaved her off her husband’s house and 2-acre piece of land. The recent spates of events that followed 23-year old Lucy Nyambura after the mysterious death of 30-year old Gabriel Ng’ang’a arouses the debate of property inheritance. (Read full story)

The story of Nyamabura’s predicament, published by The Standard Media 25 March 2014 is not a uniquely Kenyan case. Women’s right to inherit land and other property is brutally limited in many parts of Africa. At a man’s death, his property is either inherited by his adult sons or reclaimed by his family.

Discriminatory customary laws and cultural attitudes and practices are used to justify the disinheritance of widows and beseeched to outweigh constitutional provisions to inherit.

Inheritance in Kenya is guided by the Law of Succession Act Cap 160 of the Laws of Kenya.

Under this Act, a person may either die testate or intestate. “A person dies testate when he has made a valid will on how his property should be distributed on his death. A person dies intestate when he has not made a will on how his property will be distributed on his death or his will has been invalidated,” explains John Chigiti, Senior partner in the firm of Chigiti & Chigiti Advocates.

In the case of intestacy (when no will is stated), the Law of Succession Act sets out how the deceased´s property should devolve. A surviving spouse is entitled to the personal and household effects of the deceased, and a life interest in the whole residue of the net intestate estate; however, if the surviving spouse is a widow, and she re-marries, then her life interest is terminated. The surviving spouse has power to give all or any part of the capital of the net intestate estate to any surviving children of the deceased.

Realizing Women’s Right to Land, a new publication by UNWOMEN warns that denial of inheritance rights to women is detrimental in the long run. Denial of inheritance rights to women results descent of millions of women and their families into extreme poverty and is a major cause and consequence of violence against women in Africa.

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