Date: Wed, 28 Jul 1999 15:21:49 -0700 (PDT)
From: Marie-Elena John Smith <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Women's Inheritance Rights in Africa
Women's Inheritance Rights in Africa
From Marie-Elena John Smith <email@example.com>, 6 July 1999
This letter is an invitation for you to support and participate in a landmark effort by a group of West African women's rights organizations to promote awareness of the devastating effects of discriminatory inheritance rights practices on women and children in Africa. On July 29, 1999, for the first time in West Africa, a "Day of Action for Women's Inheritance Rights" will be occurring simultaneously in eight West African countries. Women's rights activists in Burkina, Faso, Cameroon, the Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Togo are coordinating this effort with the collaboration of the International Human Rights Law Group, based in Washington, D.C.
The Day of Action is part of a long-term campaign to bring national, regional, and international attention to customary inheritance practices that deny women their right to inherit land and other property. These practices persist despite the presence of statutory laws in most countries that provide at least limited protection of women's rights to inherit, and result in the pauperization of millions of women and children.
Women's organizations in the eight countries will coordinate a program of preparatory activities, such as developing drafts of an ideal inheritance law from a women's rights perspective. On the Day of Action, July 29, the main features of coordinated activities throughout the above countries will include:
The women's organizations involved in this initiative came together for the first time in Accra, Ghana in November 1998 with the facilitation of the International Human Rights Law Group, based in Washington, D.C. All participants are intensely involved in the struggle for women's inheritance rights in their countries, and they sought to identify the difficulties they faced in their work, and the assistance needed to overcome those obstacles. Key obstacles they identified included the low profile and lack of awareness of the issue, particularly at the international level. The NGOs present formed a loose coalition to implement a series of activities aimed at overcoming these obstacles, including this Day of Action on Women's Inheritance Rights.
If you would like to show your support to women activists working on women's inheritance rights, and to contribute to the process of raising awareness of this critical problem at the international level, we invite you to e-mail the letter attached below to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, copied to the OAU Special Rapporteur on Women's Rights, whose mandate is to research and recommend measures aimed at eliminating gender-based abuse of women, as well as its causes and consequences, at the international, national, and regional levels.
In addition, to become further involved or receive more information on this women's inheritance rights initiative, please fax or email your contact information to our number or address listed below.
We appreciate your contribution to the establishment of a global support network for women's inheritance rights.
Marie-Elena John Smith
Sample letter to Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women
Dear Ms. Coomaraswamy:
This letter is part of an effort to support and participate in a landmark initiative by a group of West African women's rights organizations to promote awareness of the devastating effects of discriminatory inheritance rights practices on women and children in Africa. Included in their initiative is a "Day of Action for Women's Inheritance Rights", which will take place on July 29, 1999, simultaneously in eight West African countries. Women's rights activists in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Togo are coordinating this effort with the collaboration of the International Human Rights Law Group, based in Washington, D.C.
The Day of Action is part of a long-term campaign to bring national, regional, and international attention to customary inheritance practices that deny women their right to inherit land and other property. These inheritance practices have devastating repercussions directly on the lives of women and children, the most significant of which is the loss of rights to shared property, leading to destitution and pauperization. Yet these practices persist, by virtue of tradition, religion, and lack of information despite the presence of statutory laws in most countries that provide at least limited protection of women's rights to inherit.
The question of women's inheritance rights has become particularly urgent in recent years for a number of reasons, including the high incidence of HIV infection and AIDS and the widespread civil strife that has engulfed many countries throughout Africa. The result is that large numbers of women are being widowed at a younger age -- at a time when their access to productive resources are essential if they are to continue providing for themselves and for their dependents. The negative impact on countries' macroeconomic development is also staggering, given that, in their most productive years, half of the population are denied their means of production.
The Preamble to the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women states that violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women. Economic discrimination is an important aspect of these power relations, since, as you have noted, economically disadvantaged women are more vulnerable to violence and exploitation. In your Preliminary Report on Violence against Women, Its Causes and Consequences in 1995, you stated that "denying women economic power and economic independence is a major cause of violence against women because it prolongs their vulnerability and independence..." (Par. 53)
Because the denial of inheritance rights of women is a form of economic discrimination that has proven to be a major cause of violence against women, we urge you, as the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, to use your mandate to recommend measures at the national, regional, and international levels to eliminate this significant cause of violence against women. We request that you undertake a regional visit to research and to report upon this issue. We further urge you to contact and collaborate with the OAU Special Rapporteur on Women's Rights, Julienne Ondziel, whose mandate also includes reporting on women's inheritance rights. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We congratulate you on your successful efforts to date and hope that you will be able to include this important issue in your work.
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