Gaza women denied inheritance rights

But many are not speaking out to tackle the problem.

Gaza women protest 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Gaza women protest 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The majority of women in Gaza are being denied their inheritance rights, a survey by a Gaza-based women’s rights advocacy group has found.    The Women’s Affairs Center (WAC) study, Women and Inheritance, found 88 percent of those surveyed claimed to have been denied their inheritance. Around two thirds of those interviewed said they would not request aid to restore their legal rights.
Details of the study were published last week, ahead of International Women’s Day on Monday, in an attempt to highlight one of the most complicated issues facing Palestinian women.
“You can say it’s a matter of culture more than religion,” Diab Zayed, programs officer at the Palestinian Working Woman Society for Development (PWWSD) told The Media Line, noting that the problem exists in the West Bank as well as Gaza.
He explained that the family of a widow’s late husband would prefer to see inheritance pass to the deceased’s brothers and sons rather than the widow.
“Land is very important in the Palestinian community, and they don’t want the land to go to another family if the man dies,” Zayed said. “The [widowed] women might get an amount of money and that’s it.”
“There’s a lack of awareness among women,” he said. “They don’t even deal with it as part of their rights.”
The WAC highlighted several reasons why women in Gaza are reluctant to demand their inheritance: fear of losing their children, lack of awareness of how to approach legal aid organizations and pressure by family members to give up their rights.
PWWSD and several organizations are fighting to have property legally registered in women’s names, in order to prevent situations in which women are pressured to give up their rights.
Palestinian inheritance law follows Islamic law, which stipulates that women are only entitled to half the inheritance amount given to men.
For example, if a father bequeaths $1,000 in inheritance to two daughters and a son, then according to Islamic Law (Sharia), the son will receive $500 and the daughters $250 each.
If a woman is left widowed the inheritance money is by default shared between the children, the husband’s parents and his brothers, and involves a series of calculations dependent on each case’s circumstances.
Many Palestinian women are thus often paid off by other members of the family with a one-off lump sum and are forced to relinquish any rights they have to an estate.
“As a civil organization, we can’t say we stand against Sharia,” Zayed said. “But in practice, women don’t even get this half. We’re trying to persuade the community to at least give women their half, and maybe later things will change. We believe that women should get more than that half.”
Zayed explained that in Gaza there is less of a conflict over land because most of the population are refugees and do not own much land.
However, he said that the fact an Islamic hard-line organization like Hamas has been in control of the coastal enclave since 2007 will not make things easier for women.
“It will increase the problem,” he projected. “Hamas is very patriarchal and very conservative. It won’t help amend the law, which goes according to the Sharia.”
May Nayef, a board member for the Women’s Affairs Center told the Palestinian Maan news agency that it was part of a wider context of discrimination and violence against Palestinian women.
“Women in Gaza are suffering from numerous forms of violence,” she said, “starting with the violence of the Israeli occupation and continuing with social violence, emotional and verbal abuse in the family.”
The organization identified 202 cases where women were denied inheritance, though only 100 of these women were willing to participate in the study.
Dr. Feras Milhem, a law expert at Birzeit University said the situation today is better than what it was 20 years ago but admitted there was still a problem and the application of inheritance depends on the whim of each particular family.
“Women are not getting their rights, especially in villages” he told The Media Line.
“ForChristians it’s more complicated because there is no inheritance lawfor Christians so they apply Islamic law which does not give them totalequality.”
“Women are struggling to get the Islamic law reformedbut it’s very sensitive to change the law,” he said. “Changing it meanschallenging the rules in the Qur’an. The women can go to court butbecause of social constraints most women won’t do that.”