KHAN YUNIS, Gaza Strip — Many Palestinian women are being deprived of their inheritances in the Gaza Strip, and the problem is widespread and growing, especially among families who own land.
Amina Hassan (a pseudonym) and her three sisters say they became the victims of their brother, who seized most of their real estate inheritance.
Amina, who lives in the city of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, told Al-Monitor she and her sisters have been suffering from social and financial problems ever since their brother stole their inheritance in 2007 and they initiated legal procedures to claim it in 2008. She said, “Until this date and for seven years, we have not yet obtained our inheritance rights. Litigation procedures are taking several years and seem to require even more time.”
According to Amina, many men proposed to her, but her brother refuses to allow her to marry to ensure the remaining part of the inheritance remains among family members.
Lawyer Islah Hassania told Al-Monitor, “Although the inheritance is the right of any person, whether a woman or a man, many families in many areas in the Gaza Strip deprive their daughters of their inheritance. … I noted that [many] families depriving girls of their inheritance are landowners.”
Hassania said land-related cases can take years to reach the courts because of the necessary documentation, evidence and follow-up.
“One of my cases remained under litigation before the court for 14 years before it was recently settled,” she said. “In some cases, the party depriving women of their inheritance, or the party claiming inheritance, dies [yet] the case remains, given the presence of other inheritors. The reason for the delay in rendering judgments is the existence of several degrees of litigation.”
Hassania also believes many cases are never even reported.
“Some of these women … are subjected to several forms of pressure and coercion,” she said. “They are not allowed to be married or are forced to waive their inheritance if they want to get married. On the other hand, many women stick to customs and traditions and believe that claiming their inheritance is shameful.”
Hassania added, “However, some women are claiming their rights in light of the spread of education, as they are becoming aware that this is a legitimate matter, thanks to women’s rights institutions raising awareness.”
Several charity associations for the support of women hold awareness workshops each month in the Gaza Strip. Some associations even offer legal advice to women who have not submitted their cases to court.
The Women’s Affairs Center (WAC) in the Gaza Strip issued in 2009 a study titled “Women and Inheritance: Causes and Effects.” The study noted a setback at the level of social interactions due to the denial of women’s right to inheritances, despite the existence of Islamic laws that guarantee a woman’s right to half of an inheritance.
The study also addresses the greater extent of the problem in villages and rural areas — the preference for males over females and the practice of invoking false pretenses and pretexts based on discrimination, injustice and violation of Sharia.
The study further indicated, “Among those pretexts is the argument that allowing women to inherit movable or immovable properties, such as land and real estate, disperses the family’s estate since women will get married and their husbands and children will share their inheritance.”
According to the study, the real cause underlying the denial of women’s inheritance is greed. The study echoed Hassania’s stance that women’s ignorance of their rights and the pressures and threats they face from their families contribute to the spread of the injustice and other related problems.
Lawyer Hala Nabhan, an official of a WAC project on women’s inheritance rights in Gaza, agreed that the practice is growing and creating other problems such as murder, preventing women from marrying, violence and threats against women. She also cited “the lack of religious influence.” Islam clearly governs the issue of women’s inheritance and the need to do them justice.
Nabhan added, “The women’s inheritance right project was launched five years ago and is now in its sixth year. We promote women’s economic and social rights by speeding up their access to their inheritance. We are convinced that giving women their inheritance will allow them to acquire their economic rights and enhance their role in society. This is done by raising their legal awareness and empowering them. We succeeded during the last two years in convincing 60 women to claim their inheritance rights and they resorted to the courts.”
At the end of June, the project launched a lobbying campaign to establish a government department to shorten inheritance procedures and save time, effort and cost. “This department shall have a representative of all government departments concerned with inheritance issues in order to ensure the legal representation of women claiming their inheritance rights and to execute court decisions,” Nabhan said.
Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
- The award-winning Middle East Lobbying - The Influence Game
- Archived articles
- Exclusive events
- The Week in Review
- Lobbying newsletter delivered weekly