Nusa Dua, Bali – Grassroots women’s rights activists and legal practitioners gathered at the 9th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP 9), being held in Bali, Indonesia to raise concerns and share strategies about women’s unequal inheritance and property rights and HIV. Opening the session From Africa to Asia: HIV and Women’s Inheritance and Property Rights, Dr. Mandeep Dhaliwal, UNDP Cluster Leader on Gender, Human Rights & Sexual Diversities and Co-chair of the session, highlighted the growing evidence of the links between HIV and the denial of property and inheritance rights to women and girls and urged increased action. “Addressing the issue of unequal inheritance and ownership goes far beyond the critical challenge of establishing enabling legal, policy and human rights frameworks. It also requires addressing inadequate statutory laws, as well as discriminatory customary laws, traditions, attitudes, and norms.” Co-chair, Anne Stenhammer, UNIFEM Regional Programme Director, emphasized the importance of advocacy and activism, noting the barriers to effective change.
For women living with HIV, denial of property and inheritance rights can lead to loss of shelter and livelihood, and result in dislocation from their communities and social safety nets. As a result of HIV stigma and gender-based discrimination, it may also jeopardize women’s access to testing, treatment, care and support. Speakers at the session highlighted that denying women equal rights to property and inheritance hampers their social and economic security and puts their human rights at risk. Yet the promotion and protection of their rights is essential to reducing their vulnerability to HIV and to strengthening their capacity to cope with the impact of the epidemic on themselves, their families and communities.
Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, and head of the HIV/AIDS Unit of the Lawyer’s Collective in India reflected on his experience with the Court of Women on HIV and Women’s Inheritance and Property Rights (held at ICAAP 8 in Colombo) as an eminent juror, noting existing protective legal structures within India. Rup Narayan, an advocate and an executive member for the Forum for Women Law and Development (FLWD) in Nepal, shared strategies used by FWLD, such as their work on HIV, particular around ensuring confidentiality in Nepal’s judicial process for cases involving people living with HIV, and on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in Nepal. He underlined the need to maintain confidentiality in relation to a person’s HIV status, especially women seeking redress through the legal system. Esther Mwaura Muiru, Director of GROOTS KENYA, traveled from Kenya to join the panel. GROOTS Kenya is a network of over 2000 self-help groups from poor communities in urban slums and rural areas across Kenya. On the panel, Ms. Mwaura Muiru described the group’s experience organizing grassroots women to demand their rights to land, housing and property.
Although these issues have been highlighted for several years in Africa, they are more recently emerging on Asian/Pacific HIV and women’s rights agendas. Women’s property ownership is linked with a substantially lower risk of marital violence. In fact, asset control gives women greater bargaining power within households and helps protect against domestic violence, a key risk factor for HIV. Research in Kerala, India, for example, found that 49% of women with no property reported physical violence compared to only 7% of women who did own property. Property rights can provide women with a secure place to live, and a site for economic activity and means of livelihood. Property and inheritance rights also reduce economic dependence on men and extended families, and provide collateral for credit. They can help women and girls to avoid being drawn into livelihoods that place them at greater risk of infection, including transactional sex to meet basic needs for shelter, food and schooling. The panel called for immediate change among the legal and judicial sector as a catalyst for change.
The session was held Wednesday, 12 August and was organized by UNDP, UNIFEM, GROOTS Kenya, GROOTS International, Huairou Commission, and Fordham Leitner Center for International Law and Justice.
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