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Burkina Faso: Women struggle to access inherited lands

Djenéba Sanou was born in Bobo Dioulasso in a family of four children, two boys and two girls. But when their parents died, she and her sister were denied their share of the family land, a common fate for many women.

Mrs. Sanou, disgusted, says, “I am even the eldest of the family but I see that it (my voice) does not count. This is not right.”

She contacted her uncles to discuss a more equitable sharing. Some in the family agreed, while others did not.

In November 1989, Burkina Faso ratified the law on the elimination of all forms of discrimination based on sex in legal inheritance. Article 733 of the Persons and Family Code says that girls and boys can inherit without discrimination as to sex or origin. But it turns out that in reality, socio-cultural constraints are obstacles to applying tis law.

Néné Ouedraogo is a nurse in the infirmary of the Ouezzin Coulibaly military camp. She witnessed a case where a young woman was excluded in the division of an inheritance. Mrs. Ouedraogo thinks that such exclusions should be severely punished in Burkina Faso because of their harmful consequences. She adds, “Because of family exclusions, some women are abused in their homes and condemned to martyrdom because they have nowhere to go.”

Benjamine Kabore, born Tapsoba, is the head of the legal clinic for women lawyers in Bobo Dioulasso,  an association created in 1993 to promote and defend the rights of women and girls. The association offers information and counseling support to women. Ms. Kabore deplores the continuing exclusion of women from inheritance in Bobo Dioulasso. She received 22 inheritance complaints in 2020. Of these, 10 are cases where orphans were excluded from a family inheritance.

She believes this is just a small portion of the total number of exclusions. She explains: “Indeed, the complainants are mostly educated girls, while the majority of women are illiterate. Imagine the number of orphans robbed of their inheritances who remain silent either from ignorance of the law or by the weight of tradition, which makes inheritance a taboo for the women’s movement.”

Some radical conservatives do not agree that girls can claim inheritances, especially when it comes to land. Sogossin Sanou, a farmer in Bobo, declares: “The daughter does not have a claim on an inheritance from her father. When we were born, we found it like this, and we respect the intelligence of our ancestors.”

Besides customs, there is a Muslim law which upholds exclusions in some of its provisions. In fact, it grants girls only half as much of the inheritance as boys. The law, inspired by the Koran, is not legally recognized by Burkina Faso. The national law, in force since November 1989, stipulates that all children have the same rights, girls or boys, legitimate or not.

Mrs. Kabore explains that, according to this law: “If a child disputes the division of the estate, he can request the division by judicial process by liquidating the estate. Litigants must understand that justice is not the only option. Litigation, it generally proceeds in an amicable way.”

This resource is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.

Photo: Rehena Juma in her fields in Valeska village, near Arusha, Tanzania on October 7, 2013. Credit: Frederic Courbet