Women in Nepal struggle to get their rightful share of ancestral property

Although the constitution states that women are equally entitled to have their share of ancestral property, the law's implementation has been sketchy.

Representational image.

Anushka Nepal

  • Read Time 3 min.

Kathmandu: For years, women in Nepal were not entitled to receive ancestral property, even in the case where women were the only children in the family. In those situations, the property went to the male figures in the paternal family since women were not deemed fit to have hold of the property. 

Today, there have been many sets of changes in the laws and constitution that declare women equally entitled to ancestral property as their male siblings.

According to the Constitution of Nepal (2015), every child has equal rights to the parental property regardless of their gender. Similarly, the Civil Code (2017) has equal inheritance provisions that guarantee equal rights to sons and daughters over ancestral property regardless of marital status.

But the question still stands: has this law been followed through?

According to the USAID Country Profile, only 19.7 percent of Nepali women own land. This accounts for only 5% of Nepal’s total land area. Only 11% of these women have control over their land.

Mohna Ansari, an attorney and former commissioner of the National Women Commission, said that although the law is in favor, there are places, specially the rural ones, where women are still not given the fair share of their property.

According to research done by the International Organization of Migration, inheritance is highly influenced by patriarchy, with the ancestral property passing down the male line.  As a result, there is still a significant gap between what the law provides for and what is actually practiced. Most communities across the country face substantial male opposition to women’s land ownership. There are several who are not willing to come to terms to women’s property ownership.

For instance, in the recent case of Nirmala Kurmi, it is evident that she was the victim of this stereotypical society, as she was brutally abused for her possession of the property. The stereotypical thinking has not only made it difficult to receive rightful ownership, but for some it has also become life-threatening because of society’s norms. 

The concept of sons being the only eligible figure to have hold of the family property is so deeply rooted in the minds of people that the law seems to have less impact within the society. For the laws and the constitution to be fully implemented, it is equally important for women to come forward and fight for receiving their rights when violated, said Ansari.

‘Women need to be aware of what their rights are to be able to fight when it is being violated’

Besides the patriarchal belief there are several other reasons why women are unable to get hold of the property easily. There are many women in different parts of Nepal that are unaware of their rights, about them having an equal right on the ancestral property. 

This poses a huge barrier on the legal front as women themselves are not aware of what their rights are. According to the survey, the majority of women were unaware of legal laws affecting their rights to possess land and property. There was a lack of knowledge among many women regarding these legal provisions, as per the survey. Women’s land and property ownership is hampered by a lack of knowledge because they are unable to claim or execute their rights in the absence of such information.

“Women need to be aware of what their rights are, to be able to fight when it is being violated,” said Ansari. “But the lack of awareness among them is one of the reasons why the laws have not been as fruitful as they could be.”

Furthermore, during the division of the ancestral property among children, the law deems it mandatory to have every childrens’ consent for the property division. But unfortunately in many cases, women are not involved in the process of property division. “Not getting their consent is illegal, but it has been going on for a long time,” added Ansari. 

Women will always have a difficult time claiming their rights unless they challenge the patriarchal society they are a part of. It is a gradual process, but it is vital since this will make it a lot more efficient for women to claim their rights on ancestral property. 

Furthermore, women all around need to have the knowledge of their rights on their ancestral property so that they are able to identify the violation of this right, according to Ansari. “This is the first thing we need to change if we want to see women claim their rights on the property,” she said.