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Hardly 4% land owned by women in rural areas

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Staff Reporter

Hardly four percent land in rural areas of the country is owned by women, reveals a survey depicting the worst scenario about women’s property rights.

Noted economist Prof Abul Barkat conducted the exploratory study, titled ‘Assessing Inheritance Laws and Their Impact on Rural Women in Bangladesh’ with support from International Land Coalition (ILC), an NGO.

Of the Muslim community, only 15.8 percent land at household level in rural areas is owned by women, but it is only five percent of the land effectively owned by women, according to the survey revealed here on Wednesday.

Among the Hindu, Santal and Chakma communities, the scenario is even worse. However, the picture in matrilineal Garo community is satisfactory in term of women rights, the study shows.

The study findings were revealed at the opening session of a two-day workshop, titled ‘Women’s Inheritance Rights Studies: Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Pakistan’, at the city’s Brac Centre Inn.

Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD) and ILC jointly organized the workshop being attended by experts from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Indonesia. ALRD Chairperson Khusi Kabir moderated the opening session.

The study defined the effective ownership of women over the land as having legal document of lands, having courage to claim as own land, having decision-making power to sell it, and to use the income generated from the land.

Presenting the survey findings, Prof Barkat, also a Dhaka University teacher, said inheritance laws in Bangladesh are a complex and thorny issue since there is no uniform law as the inheritance laws here have been formulated mainly based on religious doctrines.

“Regardless of the constitutional ban on discrimination on the basis of gender, women in Bangladesh rarely have the equal property rights. Social and customary practices effectively exclude women from direct access to land,” Dr Barkat said.

He said households possess 65.1 decimal of land on average, of which only 10.3 decimal of land is owned by the women of those surveyed households.

The survey says Muslim rural women receive only 43.2 percent of land compared to their lawful rights of inheriting land.

In majority cases, according to him, a woman inherits land priced significantly lower compared to those received by her brothers or receives money as an alternative of her inherited land.

In most cases, the received money is significantly lower than the market prices of the land. It is estimated that women practically receive not more than 25 percent of the justifiable amount of land.

In the Hindu community, the position of women is peripheral and vulnerable in the family as the Hindu law does not have any provision for a Hindu woman to inherit, except in few extraordinary and exceptional circumstances.

According to Santal customary law, all the sons inherit equal shares in the movable and immovable properties left by their father, where daughters are inhumanely deprived of the rights or claim to any portion of parental property, Dr Barkat told the workshop.

As per the customary inheritance system of the Chakma community, only the sons inherit the family property. If a family does not have any male child, then the daughter of that family generally becomes the inheritor of the property by default.

In both Chakma and Santal communities, a widow does not have any ownership right over her late husband’s property.

In the Garo community, women inherit and own land due to matrilineal nature. However, Garo women started also losing their exclusive rights to land due to the increasing interaction between the community and the mainstream patriarchal culture of Bangladesh, the researcher said.