The Realty of Inequality
Farnsworth, Aimee; Hudson, Valerie
Although women’s property and inheritance rights are recognized in international law, women in many countries still lack the ability to own or inherit property, either by law or by the trumping of law in practice. The increasing number of women as heads of household who are in critical need of land and property for economic security is a particular concern in the developing world, and a major factor for the progress of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (United Nations 2009). Even where laws are present, the rift between property rights and actual ownership is immense. Discrepancies between statutory and customary law as well as a multitude of diverse socio-cultural practices serve to confound women’s access to property in many regions of the world (Deere & Leon 2001). Because gender issues traverse virtually all aspects of culture, researchers have found that, among other things, property plays a central role concerning women’s vulnerability to HIV and AIDS as well as domestic violence (Gable et al. 2007, 136). For example, the loss of property upon divorce or widowhood may force a woman with HIV into unsanitary living conditions, which can undermine her health significantly. In some cases, women with no property or job prospects may resort to sex work to support themselves, increasing their risk of contracting and spreading HIV. Unequal property rights can also weaken a married woman’s bargaining power within her relationship, increasing her risk of HIV infection because she cannot negotiate safer sex (Gable et al. 2007, 136). Because property ownership is directly related to women’s bargaining power within the household and community, the need to explore gendered access to property within cultural and social systems is imperative (Patel 2007). As a cross-national survey of women’s property rights has never been performed, this project has the potential to make a very important contribution to the fields of gender studies and international development.