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Woman, get your name on that title

 Talks about property should be normalised in relationships and marriages (Photo: News Deeply)

Around the world, less than 20 per cent of all the land titles and ownership belong to women, and only only 1.5 per cent of women in Kenya own land titles.

These are figures courtesy of Etta Madete, an architect and housing expert.

Madete was speaking in a Spice FM show on Women’s Rights for Land and Home Ownership, alongside Robyn T Emersion, Africa Housing Forum Manager and the show’s host Olivia Otieno.

But why is this?

“Is it because the land is passed on to men?”  Olivia asks.

“Yes. Not only that... you also find that men usually have their names on the titles even if a property was jointly bought within a marriage”.

“We are ignorant of the fact that if you are married and you somehow do not have your name on a title or marital property if your husband dies you at some point have to fight to get that title within your family,” says Madete.

She adds, “So it is not automatically yours. You will have to fight for it. If your name is not on the title you need to go to court to prove that you were married, and for how long.”

This heated radio debate stirs up many memories. How many times have we heard the sad and helpless story of the widow who was left with no property after her husband’s family disinherited her and her children?

Or the story of the wife who although empowered enough to contribute financially or non-financially to the buying of matrimonial property never had her name registered alongside her husband’s on any of the titles.

In Kenya, a woman’s right to own, inherit or dispose of property is well protected under the Constitution, and other relevant legislation like the Matrimonial Property Act, the Marriage Act, Matrimonial Property Act, Land Registration Act, the Land Act and the Law of Succession Act.

Yet according to the Kenya Land Issuance Disaggregated Data Analysis published in 2018, women only represent 10.3 per cent of title owners while men own 86.5 per cent of the total.

The number of women who own land in Kenya remains low, despite constitutional and legislative reforms that have granted them equal property rights.

This is unfortunate because owning property is key to empowerment and poverty eradication. Lack of property means that one is unable to gain access to financing, to better their standard of living and that of their dependents. 

This gap in property ownership is often blamed on the predominantly patriarchal Kenyan society, a fact driven by cultural beliefs. As a result, women consistently are marginalised and discriminated against when it comes to property ownership.

Roseline Orwa, a social entrepreneur and founder of Rona Foundation, a human rights organisation that works to advance and protect widow’s rights in rural areas, as well as provide support to orphans became a widow in 2008 at only 32.

She says that being a widow is difficult, but being childless makes the equation more complex when it comes to property ownership.

“My late husband bought a property in Ugunja; unfortunately, he died before the title deed could be processed. I was fortunate enough to get this land because of the support I got from my parents-in-law and nephew,” she says.

“Sadly, I lost the second piece of land. My husband had negotiated and even signed a sales agreement with the seller, which I paid for after my husband’s death; but the seller took advantage of my vulnerability and sold the land to someone else. I was mourning my husband and got tired of fighting. We live in a society that is patriarchal and a widow is easy prey.”

According to Roseline, most women are unable to fight for their property rights. “Most do not know their rights to own, inherit and dispose of land, and even when they do, they often cannot afford legal representation or lack access to courts.

Although women have the right to access and use land, these rights are attached to the relationship they have with the men who own the land. These men are either their husbands, fathers or brothers.”

That culture and the patriarchal society it perpetuates play a key role in acting as a barrier to women owning property.

The architect says that although it is illegal to evict a woman and her children from her matrimonial home or land, the husband’s family often disinherits the widow or claims her matrimonial property. Culture usually rules the day.

In rural areas, access to justice is limited by cost and lack of knowledge, and as a result, traditional practices are repeatedly discriminatory toward women.

Seeing the barriers, she faced and others like her, Roseline started the Rona Foundation in Bondo, where it serves more than 8,000 widows. Her foundation advocates for widow’s property rights and economic and social empowerment.

Dianah Kamande, a businesswoman and founder of Come Together Widows and Orphans Organisation says that when it comes to property women are vulnerable.

When Dianah’s husband killed himself after attacking her, she was rushed to hospital and upon her return, she found that her house had been broken into and valuables taken by people she suspects to be her late husband’s relatives.

“From my experience and after working with widows, I tell women who are bereaved they should not be so trusting of relatives. I have heard stories of women who gave away their log books, property titles and crucial information while planning the funeral, and relatives who seemed helpful used this information to take away property from them,” says Dianah.

“Death has a way of bringing out the worst in people. It seems that once your husband is dead everyone now wants a piece of his property. One should only keep a close circle of people around them - people who can fight for you.”

Dianah adds that women should show interest in matrimonial property. “Do not sit pretty, ignoring what you and your husband own. Have a hands-on approach and know what is going on. If you buy or help buy matrimonial property, ensure your name is on the title deed.”

Dianah says that men should realise that when they have their wives’ names on the documentation of matrimonial property while they are alive, they are also protecting the future of their children.

“Wouldn’t it be unfortunate for a man to spend his working years acquiring property and because he failed to put his wife’s name on the title or even to inform her of the property, he lives her unable to take care of his children? A widow I worked with had a land case in court for over 30 years, and she died before getting justice,” she says.

Dianah says that talk about property should be normalised in marriages and relationships.

“We should talk about what we own, and how we want it to be divided and if possible, have a will. I recently remarried, my husband has a daughter and I have two from a previous relationship. We decided that he would leave his property to his daughter, and mine to my daughters. We even brought in a lawyer. We have begun our marriage with nothing, and whatever we acquire now will be for the both of us, but our daughters are protected and taken care of.”

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