Property and inheritance rights key to empowering women living with HIV, say grass-roots groups


At a recent dialogue in Gambia, legal service organizations, community-based groups, together with regional networks of women living with HIV, called on policymakers to address women’s property and inheritance rights in the context of HIV. 

“In Africa, when a woman is protected, a whole nation is protected. African nations are strengthening their responses to the discriminatory practices that still exist on the continent. Tackling discrimination and HIV-related human rights violations against women is central to an effective HIV response,” said Commissioner Lucy Asuagbor, Chairperson of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of People Living with HIV, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Many such voices came together at a Regional Policy Dialogue in Banjul, Gambia on 29 October, attended by legal service, community-based and grass-roots organizations, along with regional representatives of the International Community of Women Living with HIV, policymakers and UN Women. The meeting came on the heels of the 54th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and focused on concrete ways that HIV-affected women can access their property and inheritance rights.

The Regional Policy Dialogue on Women’s Property and Inheritance Rights in the Context of HIV and AIDS,” organized by UN Women, marked the culmination of UN Women’s Action to Promote the Legal Empowerment of Women in the Context of HIV and AIDS, a programme implemented in sub-Saharan Africa and supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development – Canada (DFATD). Through small grants, the programme aimed to increase women’s access to property and inheritance rights, and reduce their vulnerability to HIV and the impact of AIDS. Women living with HIV are particularly susceptible to property and inheritance rights violations because of the widespread stigma associated with HIV. Stripped of property or inheritance, women are deprived of critical assets that otherwise would provide them with greater bargaining power within their households and economic security from the consequences of HIV and AIDS on their families and communities. 

“It can no longer be disputed that women and girls are the most affected by the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa; that they bear the disproportionate burden of care and are often unable to protect themselves from HIV due to a range of social and economic inequalities. Pervasive gender inequality, entrenched in law and practice, the lack of access to legal and economic resources and discrimination place women and girls at a higher risk of HIV infection,” said Nazneen Damji, Policy Advisor, UN Women.

The programme awarded approximately USD 2.2 million in small grants to 20 national and community-based organizations and networks in nine countries – Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe – to strengthen responses to safeguard the property and inheritance rights of women living with HIV.

The grantees worked with more than 3,000 national and local leaders and 20,000 community members and sensitized them on the need to protect women’s property and inheritance rights in the context of HIV; trained over 250 legal service providers, including community paralegals, on customary law, land titling, succession planning; and improved the rights awareness and legal literacy of 15,000 women living with HIV. Efforts also resulted in support to over 1,250 property and inheritance-related cases for women living with HIV or affected by AIDS, and 1,300 women taking action to legally register their lands with District Land Boards.

The Regional Policy Dialogue was an opportunity to showcase the effective strategies used by UN Women partners to protect the property and inheritance rights of HIV-affected women and ensure the accountability of decision-makers and to engage policymakers on solutions to address challenges and to scale-up successful practices.

The meeting concluded with key demands by the grantees to national and local policymakers to:

  1. Include women living with HIV or affected by AIDS in leadership and decision-making platforms;
  2. Develop national implementation plans with associated and adequate budgets for existing laws and policies on women’s property and inheritance rights, and on stigma and discrimination;
  3. Reform civil codes to include rights for shared properties for unregistered customary law unions; 
  4. Repeal discriminatory customary laws; and,
  5. Avail funds at the local government level to subsidize legal services for HIV-affected women.

Related links:
In Sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS widows strive to regain their rights after husbands are gone
In Zimbabwe, women with HIV leading change, claiming their rights
Grantee project descriptions