How Title Deeds Make Sex Safer: Women's property rights in an era of HIV

Publication date

14 Jun 2008

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One impact of HIV and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa has been an increase in the number of poor, female-headed households. With particular reference to Kenya, this paper argues that under customary law, women's rights to own and inherit property are often limited and secondary to those of men. As a result, women who become widows are disproportionately likely to lose their homes, land, and other assets, placing themselves and their children at risk of destitution and exploitation. Modern systems of individual property rights offer women better legal protection, although such systems can discriminate against the poor, and often lack social legitimacy. Collective action to demand women's property rights has been slow to develop in Africa, despite the support of international legal frameworks such as CEDAW. Paradoxically, the author suggests that the threat that HIV and AIDS poses to national development may spur activists and governments to make greater efforts to ensure women's property rights.