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Kenya Courts Protect Womenís Inheritance Rights

A Masai woman works a garden she has recently planted in the village of Kajiado, near Nairobi, Kenya.

A Masai woman works a garden she has recently planted in the village of Kajiado, near Nairobi, Kenya. (Photo: UNICEF/Michael Kamber.)

 

As a result of Kenyaís courtsí forcefully asserting that the principle of gender equality must be respected despite traditional biases in favour of men, women and girls are getting a fairer share of inheritance.

 

Kenyaís Court of Appeal made an important decision in 2005 that directly addressed the conflict between discrimination against women built into customary laws on inheriting family property, and the guarantee of gender equality in Kenyaís Constitution, the African Charter, and CEDAW. In Rono vs. Rono, the sons claimed a greater share of their deceased fatherís property than their sisters and their fatherís widow. They argued that ďaccording to Keiyo traditions, girls have no right to inheritance of their fatherís estateĒ and that customary law supported their claim. But the court found that, where discrimination is at stake, the Constitution and human rights standards must prevail.

 

This same challenge was addressed again in 2008 by the Kenyan High Court in the Ntutu decision, where it was argued that Masai customary law did not recognize a daughterís right to inherit from her fatherís estate. The Court relied on the Rono vs. Rono decision, noting in particular the need to respect the requirements of CEDAW and international law, and recognized womenís inheritance rights.

 

Read the full texts of the Rono vs. Rono and Ntutu decisions.

 

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