admin | July 30, 2021
Ida Njeri was a civil servant with access to a Savings and Credit Cooperative Society, or SACCO, through her employer. She began taking low-interest loans from the co-operative so that she and her husband could buy land in Ruiru, Central Kenya. It was part of the couple’s long-term plan: to have a family, buy land, and eventually build their dream home together. Mrs. Njeri did not realize that, when the couple separated 12 years and three children later, the law would not allow her to own the matrimonial property.
Ida Njeri was once a civil servant with access to a Savings and Credit Cooperative Society, or SACCO, through her employer. She began taking low-interest loans from the co-operative so that she and her husband could buy land in Ruiru, Central Kenya.
It was all a part of the couple’s long-term plan: to have a family, buy land, and eventually build their dream home together. Mrs. Njeri did not realize that, 12 years and three children later, the law would not allow her to own the matrimonial property.
She explains: “As a private consultant, it was difficult for my husband to join a SACCO. People generally join SACCOs through their employer. This makes it easy to save and take loans because you need three people within your SACCO to guarantee the loan.”
Instead, they put their savings into her husband’s account, and he controlled the family’s purchases.
She says: “My husband had a savings bank account so we would combine my loans with his savings. By 2016, I had 45,000 dollars in loans. My husband would tell me the amount of money needed to purchase land and I would take out a loan.”
By 2016, the couple had purchased 14 different plots of land. But last year, when their marriage fell apart, Mrs. Njeri discovered that all of their land was in her husband’s name.
She says: “All along I just assumed that the land was in both our names. I never really thought about it because we were jointly building our family. Even worse, all land payment receipts and sale agreements are in his name alone.”
Worse still, there was little she could do about it within the current framework of Kenyan law.
Although Mrs. Njeri’s marriage was legally registered (effectively granting her a legal basis for land ownership under the Kenyan Marriage Act 2014) there is another law—the Matrimonial Property Act 2013—which stands against her.
Section seven of this act says that ownership of matrimonial property is dependent on the contributions of each spouse towards purchasing the land. Because Mrs. Njeri had no proof of jointly purchasing the land with her husband, she cannot claim her share of it following their divorce.
Mrs. Njeri’s is not an isolated case of divorced women struggling for their land rights.
The Kenya Land Alliance, or KLA, is an advocacy network dedicated to the realization of constitutional provisions of women’s land rights as a means to eradicate poverty and hunger and promote gender equality. In 2018, KLA released an audit of land ownership after disaggregating and analyzing approximately one-third of the 3.2 million title deeds issued by the government between 2013 and 2017.
The KLA audit found that only 103,043 or 10.3% of title deeds were issued to women compared to the 865,095 or 86.5% that went to men.
Odenda Lumumba is a land rights activist and founder of KLA. She explains that the data on land ownership is a pointer to the reality that gender disparities remain a concern, especially because of the intricate relationship between land tenure systems, livelihoods, and poverty.
She says, “There is very little progress towards women owning land. There are so many obstacles for them to overcome.”
Less than five per cent of all land title deeds in Kenya are held jointly by women and only one per cent of land titles are held by women alone. Women are also disadvantaged in the manner in which they can use, own, manage, and dispose of land, says FIDA-Kenya.
In addition to the Matrimonial Property Act, laws such as the Law of Succession Act seek to cushion both surviving male and female spouses, but are still skewed in favour of men as widows lose their “lifetime interest” in property if they remarry. And where there is no surviving spouse or children, the deceased’s father is given priority over the mother.
Even though marriage services at the Attorney General’s office have been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as have all services at the land registries, women like Mrs. Njeri will continue to fight for what they rightfully own.
This story is based on an article written by Miriam Gathigah and published by the Inter Press Service on June 1, 2020, titled “For Love or Land – The Debate about Kenyan Women’s Rights to Matrimonial Property.” To read the full story, go to: http://www.ipsnews.net/2020/06/for-love-or-land-the-debate-about-kenyan-womens-rights-to-matrimonial-property/
Photo: Asha Ally in her field in Nyandira village near Morogoro, Tanzania on May 28, 2014. Credit: © Frederic Courbet, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation