PROMOTING RESPECT FOR WOMEN’S PROPERTY AND INHERITANCE RIGHTS IN THE CONTEXT OF HIV AND AIDS
The just concluded Women’s Property and Inheritance Rights (WPIR) Phase Two project is a continuation of the WPIR Phase 1 which was concluded in 2011. The projects were implemented in Cross River and Ebonyi states of Nigeria. The project was designed in response to the need to address the property and inheritance rights of women, especially in the context of HIV and AIDS. Beneficiaries are women whose property and inheritance rights are denied and who suffer different forms of deprivations and abuses as a result of the core patriarchal values and gender-biased customs that characterize the two states. Most widows, especially those of deceased AIDs spouses face not only discrimination but also expulsion from their marital homes and deprivation of property irrespective of whether they have children or not. In some cases, widows with male children are favoured over those without male children and only those with some education may be able to challenge the status quo. Even then, such widows are termed stubborn.
In a previous project supported by the United Nations Trust Fund to Eliminate Violence against Women, Anti-Violence against Women (Anti-VAW) committees were established by the participants and this is being powered by Gender Desk Officers of the Ministry of Women Affairs in the project states. As a sustainability plan, the committees were encouraged to evolve into independent community-led organisations in collaboration with community opinion leaders, law enforcement agents (the police) health workers and legal service providers. These committees provide an important link to the implementation of the WPIR project in terms of mobilization, networking and record-keeping.
Strategies and Activities:
Advocacy visits were paid to some traditional rulers and senior police officers to create awareness about the project and seek their cooperation in the project particularly in the area of data collection. Legislative advocacy is ongoing for the passage of the Gender bills including the anti-Stigma bill and the Gender and Equal Opportunities and anti-Stigma bill that protect WPIR.
Two capacity building workshops were held in the project to create awareness on the intersection between property/inheritance rights and HIV and to inform participants of their role and responsibilities in promoting respect for WPIR. One was for magistrates and lawyers while the other was for traditional rulers, WLWHA, police officers, health workers, women leaders and CSOs.
Step down trainings were organized at the six pilot LGAs by members of the Anti-VAW committee to sensitize more people and build capacities on WPIR at the community level.
Data Collection and Research
Baseline and end line surveys were conducted in the project. Researchers that were trained during the Phase 1 of the project administered questionnaires to collect data on the project at the beginning and towards the end of the project. There were also Focus Group Discussions during the baseline survey and end line survey. Data was used to capture the situation on ground and also to measure progress achieved or changes that have taken place in the project.
Partnership and Coalition Building
CIRDDOC, in implementing the project, partnered with the Ministry of Women Affairs in the 2 project states, Ebonyi state Action Committee on Aids EBOSACA, Cross River State Agency on Aids (CRSACA), International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Legal Aid Council, Ministry of Justice in the 2 project states.
Anti – VAW members use every forum including their monthly meetings to create awareness of the issues of WPIR. Traditional rulers for instance conduct sensitization and create awareness during the traditional council meetings.
The Anti VAW committees also organized outreaches and sensitization rallies in their various LGAs.
Jingles in English, Efik and Igbo were aired and helped to create more awareness on WPIR.
As part of the project, CIRDDOC provided legal aid and assistance to widows to recover their confiscated properties. This is done through mediation and litigation.
Role of the Anti-VAW Committees:
- The committees act as referral mechanisms and ‘watchdogs’ within their locality.
- They engage traditional leaders and command a significant amount of influence within the community because of their interactions with traditional institutions and authorities.
- They ensure that the inheritance rights of women in the communities are respected.
- High-level awareness created of the link between denial of property rights and HIV/AIDS.
- Greater understanding and awareness by women, especially those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS of their rights with respect to property and inheritance and strengthened capacity to claim their rights and entitlements.
- Increase in the number of legal frameworks and processes that protect women’s rights and eliminate gender inequality in the context of HIV/AIDS, in relation to women’s property and inheritance rights.
- Increased and improved access of women in the context of HIV/AIDS to legal services and support to secure property and inheritance rights.
- Enhanced capacity of community and legal service providers, including traditional rulers, lawyers, paralegals, and law enforcement agents to support victims of property and inheritance rights violation in the context of HIV/AIDS.
- Strengthened referral system and greater networking amongst the formal and informal legal aid providers and law enforcement agents in effectively managing violation of rights of women to property and inheritance in relation to HIV/AIDS.
- Reduction of stigma and greater respect for property and inheritance rights of women in the context of HIV/AIDS.
- Documentation on the state of laws on inheritance and property rights of women in the context of HIV/AIDS.
Key Achievements and Outputs
- Impunity of Community members has reduced because of awareness of the consequences of infringement on property and inheritance rights of women especially those widowed or affected by AIDS.
- Women whose properties were confiscated after the death of their husbands were assisted by the Anti –VAW Committees and CIRDDOC Lawyers to recover the property.
- Traditional Rulers and other community members in the project locations were sensitized and empowered to intervene in the protection and enforcement of the inheritance rights of widows especially those widowed by AIDS.
- Women living with HIV and their Support groups were empowered and equipped with knowledge of available options and support to protect and enforce their inheritance rights.
- The Anti VAW Committees are engaging the Ebonyi state House of Assembly to pass the Anti-Stigma bill and the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill and the CRS House of Assembly to pass the Gender and Equal Opportunities bill. The anti stigma bill has been passed in CRS while the Gender and Equal Opportunities bill is still pending. The first lady of Ebonyi state has included the two bills in the list of gender bills in the state with a view of representing them as executive bills, which will speed up its consideration in the House of Assembly. The bills have been reviewed by the Committee set up for the purpose of pushing the bills. The bills are awaiting First Reading.
- Legal aid providers are aware of legal frameworks they can use to protect women whose properties were confiscated.
- More Magistrates and customary court judges now take the repugnancy principle into consideration in assessing customary and traditional practices while delivering judgment. They are fully aware of their powers to uphold only customary practices that are not repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience
The Project was evaluated by an external evaluator engaged in the project and the key findings are as follows:
There is ample evidence that CIRDDOC – UN women WPIR project has brought greater awareness among the women on their rights to property and inheritance. In Ekpelu community, for instance, the women said that they now know their rights:
CIRDDOC has exposed us to our rights to properties. More women are coming out to participate in public functions where men are seated. It was not like this before. CIRDDOC has showed us that women are important. CIRDDOC has gingered us to know that women have the power to buy land… Before now wife battery was everywhere but now it has reduced. (FGD, Women in Ekpelu).
We have decided to handover the house that we took from the women… because of the training we attended in Calabar… CIRDDOC has taught us about women’s rights. Now we know what we did was wrong (FGD Men Ohong: 22/8/2013).
The woman councilor is now a member of the Eze’s cabinet after CIRDDOC’s last visit (Izzi Unuhu community men FGD: 19/8/2013).
The woman councilor is making a lot of contribution to our development … both financially and in the ideas she brings forward (Izzi Unuhu community men FGD: 19/8/2013).
CIRDDOC presence in our community has opened our eyes. Now we know women are important and …….have power to buy land …. Now we contribute to decisions (Women FGD Ekpelu community: 20/8/2013).
There also seem to be a general acceptance, in principle, of the fact that women have property and inheritance rights in the communities. Community leaders (chiefs and opinion leaders) seem to be more aware of the need to support legal processes in favour of WPIR.
Key officers of Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development explained that the collaboration of the ministry with CIRDDOC has helped to sharpen the ministry’s focus on WPIR since they have a better understanding of the issues especially in relation to HIV and AIDS.
The summary of the findings by the UN Women evaluator who conducted an evaluation of the project as well are as follows:
- Increased awareness among women, widows and service providers of the link between WPIR denial and HIV and AIDS.
- Increased awareness on the part of Women on the need to meet their strategic needs through education and participation in decision-making.
- Capacity of service providers were built, leading to a strengthening of a referral system and networking that will facilitate legal aid provision for women/widows whose WPIR are violated.
- Greater awareness was created among community members and service providers of the existence of legal frameworks that support WPIR.
- There is still high level stigmatization of PLWHA resulting in reluctance to self-disclose and for voluntary testing.
- Community members are more aware of the need for women to inherit and own property of their own. This has led to increased ability of the women to demand for their rights.