Gender and Land Rights Database


Customary norms, religious beliefs and social practices that influence gender-differentiated land rights

- Male family members have an obligation to provide support to female members that means a wife is entitled to maintenance from her husband, in terms of shelter, clothing, food and medical care, as provided for by the Qur’an 4:34 (23).

- In rural areas it is customary for all male and female family members to contribute to cultivating the land. Women help tend the livestock, they sow, plough and harvest the land, and they prepare food for the family. Women do not own the land they work on and according to custom they do not inherit it (4).

- The concept of ayib is used to protect women’s honour and thereby the honour of the family or kinship group. Haram, on the other hand, is applied to whatever violates the dictates of Islamic teachings and codes and is considered to be sacrilegious (4).

- For a widow, the case is similar to that of the divorcee, but more severe. Cleansing is a cultural practice consisting in denying the widow the right to remarry in order to make sure that the property and children remain in her husband’s family name. In rural areas, women often marry the brother of the late husband so to keep the property in his family (24).

- It is a wide spread traditional practice that women enter into marriages before adulthood (18).

- In either tribe or family, where a notion of collective identity based on patriarchy prevails, individual rights of women are subordinated to male members who are vested with the capacity of perpetuating the family.

- According to custom, it is the husband’s responsibility to provide the matrimonial home; upon marrying, a woman moves from her parent’s/father’s house to her husband’s. Property rights remain the privilege of men as tradition dictates that they are responsible for the economic livelihood of the family (4).

Traditional authorities and customary institutions

Reconciliation or Arbitration Councils:
In the Edfu District in Aswan Governorate, the Councils solve disputes over land, water, inheritance or low-level outbreaks of violence. They are known as majlis al-sulh or majlis-tahkîm – reconciliation or arbitration councils. They are arranged by the older men of the villages and towns, and are in principle organised independently from the official legal system.

- These councils consist of a varying number of men, the total often reflecting the seriousness of the dispute. The council members must be accepted by both the disputing parties, and ideally the appointment also reflects the logic of tribal segmentation found in this area, where tribal organization is dominant. In short, the council members are often chosen from tribal sections other than the one to which the disputants belong, and in the case where the disputants are themselves tribal sections, or at least referred to as such, those intervening and arranging the councils are from other tribal sections or other tribes. A group of men who have more or less specialised in working as arbitrators are most often involved. It consists of elders who have a reputation for their ability to settle disputes and arrange councils, and for their knowledge of the tradition, which is seen as the foundation for the solutions (27).

- In many areas of Upper Egypt, the Community Development Organisations (CDAs) are widespread. They may have several sub-committees that focus on specific issues and also have a standing reconciliation committee – a lajnah musalaha. For example, the village of al-Daqadiq in Edfu district has a reconciliation committee consisting of five members. In principle, the members are selected so as to represent the different tribes and tribal sections found in the village (27).

Inheritance/succession de facto practices

- Female relatives and spouses are accorded shares, but half that of a male in a similar position and male relatives are more likely to inherit and to enjoy a greater share of the estate.  This difference in treatment between men and women is usually explained by reference to the fact that it is also a feature of Islamic law that a wife is entitled to maintenance from her husband, in terms of shelter, clothing, food and medical care. Traditionally, male heirs face social pressure to provide for other family members, though this obligation is not always met (20).
- Inheritance disputes tend to arise when women inherit a house or other building, especially if the structure in question is the family home. In some cases, male heirs prevent female heirs from inheriting their rightful share of the residence. Men justify such action by referring to the traditional notion that men, not women, are responsible for providing the family home. In general, matters of this kind are governed and settled according to traditional social norm and not to the national laws. In other instances, a woman’s right to inherit a house may be reduced to permission to live in the building; she is thus deprived of the rights, which are linked to her property rights, to sell, purchase or rent out the house.
Finally, the widow herself may fear moving out of the family house to live independently, since such a move can entail the loss of her and her children’s inheritance claims to the house. For the same reason, widows may also refrain from remarrying (4).
- Traditionally, the deceased’s in-laws deny widows the right to remarry in order to make sure that the property and children remain in her husband’s family name. For this reason, in rural areas, women often marry the brother of the late husband (24). Due to the fact that women face the risk of social exclusion and eviction from the property, they often refrain from demanding their lawful share of inheritance, especially through the court system. Many women believe that demanding their inheritance share is shameful (4).
- A woman who inherits land from her father is more or less expected to hand over the land to her brothers. If there is more than one widow, they must divide the widow’s share among them (28).

Discrepancies/gaps between statutory and customary laws

- Although the Shari’a-base succession law entitles women to inherit land, in practice, many women do not enjoy their inheritance rights. Not only Muslim but also Christian women are often denied their rightful claims to own part or the entirety of property such as cultivable lands and buildings, including family homes (4).

- While the Constitution guarantees equal rights for all citizens, the personal status laws extend privileges to men in the family. Numerous laws directly violate the constitutional guarantees in the areas of marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody (18). More specifically, regardless of principles of equality and non-discrimination within the Constitution, Art. 274 of the Penal Code imposes harsher penalties for women committing adultery. Similarly, with regards to inheritance, female relatives and spouses receive half the shares of men in similar positions (20).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography