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Human Rights Watch

Double standards: Women's property rights violations in Kenya

Vol. 15, No. 5 (A) – March 2003


Posted with permission of Janet Walsh, Human Rights Watch. Website:
[Complete document - 647Kb ~ 4 min (54 pages)]     [ Share with a friend  ]

They talk about African traditions, but there is no tradition you can speak of—just double standards.
- Woman in Central Province, November 9, 2002

Shortly after Emily Owino’s husband died, her in-laws took all her possessions—including farm equipment, livestock, household goods, and clothing. The in-laws insisted that she be “cleansed” by having sex with a social outcast, a custom in her region, as a condition of staying in her home. They paid a herdsman to have sex with Owino, against her will and without a condom. They later took over her farmland. She sought help from the local elder and chief, who did nothing. Her in-laws forced her out of her home, and she and her children were homeless until someone offered her a small, leaky shack. No longer able to afford school fees, her children dropped out of school.
—Interview with Emily Owino, Siaya, November 2, 2002

When Susan Wagitangu’s parents died, her brothers inherited the family land. “My sister and I didn’t inherit,” said Wagitangu, a fifty-three-year-old Kikuyu woman. “Traditionally, in my culture, once a woman gets married, she does not inherit from her father. The assumption is that once a woman gets married she will be given land where she got married.” This was not the case for Wagitangu: when her husband died, her brothers-in-law forced her off that homestead and took her cows. Wagitangu now lives in a Nairobi slum. “Nairobi has advantages,” she said. “If I don’t have food, I can scavenge in the garbage dump.”
—Interview with Susan Wagitangu, Nairobi, October 29, 2002

Table of contents
1. Summary - 124Kb ~ 1 min (2 pages)
2. Recommendations - 122Kb ~ 1 min (3 pages)
3. Background - 184Kb ~ 1 min (10 pages)
4. Women's property rights violations and their consequences - 195Kb ~ 1 min (16 pages)
5. Contributing factors - 187Kb ~ 1 min (12 pages)
6. International legal standards - 133Kb ~ 1 min (5 pages)
7. Conclusion - 106Kb ~ 1 min (1 pages)
Acknowledgments - 182Kb ~ 1 min (3 pages)

A woman carries firewood through a Nairobi slum, where many women end up living in squalor after their property rights are violated. (c) 2002 Agence France Presse

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