Gender and Land Rights Database

Sudan

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

  • Customary legislation is ethnic-specific, but there may also be differences at lower, sub-tribe levels. Dinka and Nuer customary laws are the most predominant and influential. In Equatoria, customs are more diversified because there is an amalgam of different tribes (18).
  • Although there are differences, essentially “the status of women is that of property”. In a predominantly patrilineal society, the rights of women are seldom addressed or protected by institutions and customs (18).
  • Women acquire indirect access to land through their husbands or male family members, with the derived rights being weaker than primary male rights. These lesser rights have restrictions as to:
    - type of land use; it is not allowed to grow perennial crops or plant fruit trees;
    - modes of land transfers regarding the inheritance of land for the female children in some ethnic groupings;
    - access to land and natural productive key resources;
    - exclusion from certain development schemes, for instance rice farms (18).
  • Women also face problems in getting access to land or maintaining their land rights in the case of divorce or husband’s death:
    - In case of divorce, women lose everything, including land and other properties;
    - When the husband dies, the widow is inherited by her husband’s family/clan members and retains the user’s rights. If she opts to leave this clan, then she is not allowed to access the land anymore;
    - It is an emerging trend that family members, such as brothers or children, are now “selling” the family land and property without the woman’s consent or even without informing her of the action (18).
  • In the southern part of the country, the judiciary system rejects the Government of Sudan (GoS) statutory law in its areas of control and relies on customary laws, especially for regulating access to rural land and dealing with related problems. There are more than 50 different customary laws among the southern Sudanese population.
  • Customary law allows a man to take as many wives as he pleases, which is different from Sharia law. 
  • The dowry is considered to be the property of the extended family and not of the wife. The dowry rules make it difficult for a woman to obtain a divorce in the traditional courts. In customary law, a woman’s decision to initiate divorce will force the extended family to pay back the dowry, whatever the reason for the divorce (16).

Traditional authorities and customary institutions

  • Local elders or the chiefs exercise administrative control and handle land disputes. Individuals with complaints over land issues are expected to take their complaints to them (15).
  • Within the country, local and regional religious courts handle family matters and are staffed with customary authorities. These courts constitute an integral part of the judiciary system; they have existed alongside civil courts – British courts – since independence in 1956 (18).

Inheritance/succession de facto practices

  •  According to customary law, a woman has no right to inheritance whatsoever. A woman’s status is akin to property. If her husband dies, she has to marry someone within the family to protect her land and property rights (15).
  • In the central and eastern regions, a wife doesn’t inherit land from her husband. When sons are too young to inherit, a male relative is usually designated as trustee until the sons come of age; shares of household income are reduced by the share of the trustee (16).

Discrepancies/gaps between statutory and customary laws

  • Although Article 15 of the Constitution states that “the State shall emancipate women from injustice, promote gender equality and encourage the role of women in family and public life”, in the areas of personal law, religious codes and customary laws apply (14).


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