Advocating Today for a Better Tomorrow: Achieving Women’s Inheritance Rights in Egypt

Advocating Today for a Better Tomorrow: Achieving Women’s Inheritance Rights in Egypt

9/27/18

We’ve scored a big win for women in Egypt. In parts of the country, women are finally exercising their right to inherit property – a right guaranteed under Egyptian law, but long denied in practice by entrenched tradition. 

Thanks to one of CARE’s most successful advocacy campaigns, Egypt introduced the first piece of legislation to include penalties for those who deny women their inheritance. Through CARE’s work with the Egyptian government and partner organizations, we’ve helped more than 1,000 women to claim over $4.4 million that is rightfully theirs. In a country with a poverty rate of 28 percent (as high as 60 percent in rural areas), this will unlock significant new economic and social opportunities for women. 

In many parts of Egypt, a strong cultural taboo has long prevented women from claiming a share of property left by parents or other relatives. Typically, a male relative such as a brother, father, cousin, or uncle would take control of the assets and not divide fairly among the siblings. Oftentimes, a woman would receive nothing from the inheritance she is entitled to, and in the best case, a woman would receive a small gift, called a radwa, in exchange for waiving her right to her full inheritance. 

The results of these violations have been devastating for women. In these farming communities where land and wealth are inextricably linked, less than three percent of agricultural land is in women’s hands. And the fallout is not just economic. An estimated 9,600 murders are committed annually among family members over inheritance disputes. 

Beginning in 2013, CARE took on the goal of changing this dynamic, through our project Empowering Women to Claim their Inheritance Rights. This entailed a two-pronged advocacy strategy, working at both the local and the national level. In 11 governorates across Upper (southern) Egypt, we built coalitions – organizing community-based seminars, educating both men and women about legal rights, and engaging local civic organizations, traditional leaders and clergy. Altogether some 6,000 citizens, along with more than 400 organizations, signed a document calling for real penalties for the violation of women’s inheritance rights.

The success we ultimately achieved provides a model for women to organize and lobby for equal rights.

Egyptian woman in Girls Prep School

On paper, Egyptian law was clear: inheritance was to be divided among surviving family members, including both women and men. CARE’s initial study in the target villages found that most people – 96 percent of men and 88 percent of women – were indeed aware of women’s legal right to inherit. But 88 percent of men refused to give women their rightful share of a bequest. In the absence of credible penalties, the law was ignored. 

During nearly four years of work with the communities, CARE helped build a commitment to the idea that women deserve a full share in opportunities and resources. Local civil society organizations, institutions and authorities played an equal role in the effort – and committed to carry on the work beyond CARE’s involvement, helping ensure that women’s dreams of full participation become a reality. 

Even after the official project ended, CARE continued to advocate in Parliament, building a strong working relationship with the National Council for Women and Women Parliamentarians and the media to raise awareness around the impact of denying inheritance on families, women, and communities at large. A woman Member of Parliament became a particular champion for the effort, pushing to fast-track discussion for the legislation. The breakthrough came after exactly five years, when Article 49 became the first law in Egypt to enact strict penalties for those who deny women their inheritance rights. Because of CARE and our champions’ commitment to women’s rights, those who break the law face a prison sentence of not less than six months and a fine of 20,000 to 100,000 Egyptian pounds ($1,100 to $5,600). 

The work goes on. Community advocates continue to raise awareness about the new law, to combat the engrained belief that it is shameful for women to stand up for their rights, and to encourage women to turn to the courts when necessary to seek justice. If our gains are sustained, the lives of 28.8 million Egyptian women who are currently denied their inheritance could be transformed. 

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