Women Still Struggling for Equal Land Rights in Kenya

A recent Reuters report detailed the ongoing fight by women in Kenya to achieve land rights equal to those of men in the East African nation. Kenya, one of the most advanced and progressive African nations, continues to lack enforcement of equal land rights for women even though its 2010 Constitution calls for the “equitable access to land and to eliminate gender discrimination in law, customs and practices related to property.”
While de jure equality exists between men and women in regards to land and property, de facto equality is far from present. Kenyan society is very much controlled by customs; even to the extent where when custom conflicts with law, the law is ignored or not enforced. To make matters worse, many women in Kenya are not fully educated on the law.
In 2012, Kenya passed the Land Registration Act, providing for the joint ownership of land, giving wives a legal right to land held in their husband’s name. In 2013, these rights were expanded with the Matrimonial Property Act, giving divorced women joint rights over land they shared with their husband, and preventing any transfer without their consent. By the letter of the law, women have achieved a nominal sense of equality that is to be admired amongst its African neighbors.
However, about two thirds of Kenya is owned by communities, without official land deeds or titles. Tradition holds that land is passed from father to son, resulting in the women not having a claim to the land that their husband acquires. With no formal deeds, Kenya’s legislative attempts at equality are unable to be enforced.
According to Property Rights Alliance’s International Property Rights Index, inheritance practices and women’s access to land ownership are two of the lower scores on average in the gender equality category for countries around the world. On a regional basis, African countries scored as the worst region for gender equality in relation to property rights, with Kenya placing just 3 spots ahead of the bottom 20% of countries worldwide.
Kenya’s attempts at providing for equal land rights for women should be lauded. However, the prevalence of customs and the lack of formal land titles in much of country leave these actions ineffective. The Kenyan government should expand the ability and ease of registering land so that it can more effectively enforce its law, and protect equal property rights for Kenyan women.  
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