Women Are Being Denied the Right to Inherit Land in India

While much attention to women's issues in India has focused in recent months on troubling instances of sexual violence in the country, women in the country face a host of other difficult gender issues that are worth scrutinizing.

One such issue is coming to light as recent reports find that women in India are being consistently denied property rights, despite some reform efforts intended to address gender-based inheritance practices. The issue deserves particular attention as growing evidence suggests a strong link between property rights and economic empowerment for women. 

In a blog posting this month on the Council on Foreign Relations' Development Channel, development worker Ashok Sircar narrates a troubling tale from his work to promote land rights for the world's poor with his nonprofit Landesa over the past year. While Sircar and his colleagues recount seeing vast numbers of women hunched over the ground tending agricultural lands in rural areas of India, few, if any, such women were able to own the land they work on.

While it has been reported that more than 80% of women in India work in agriculture, they continue to struggle to inherit land from their families. This lack of titled land prevents them from accessing a number of further benefits they should be able to enjoy, such as access to institutional credit, bank loans, and federal agricultural benefits that can help them out of poverty. 

The reality is that while India boasts holding progressive gender policies, including a recent amendment to its Hindu Succession Act of 1956 that attempts to guarantee women of all faiths the same rights as their brothers to inherit property, rural women in India remain largely unable to inherit the land on which they depend.

A recent study led by Landesa and UN Women found that only 22% of rural families knew about the amendment purporting to protect women's inheritance rights. 

Women's self-help groups have emerged (including the Mahila Samakhya Program and the Gujarat Women's Group for Women's Land Ownership) to target rural women dealing with a number of gender-based challenges. A number of microfinance groups also aim to educate women about their land rights. 

These initiatives could prove crucial to unlocking a vast degree of potential for economic progress for India's women, particularly the rural poor. Education about existing land rights as well as reform efforts to push for more legal protections can serve as equally crucial tools to addressing the problem in India. 

The impact of gender and property rights is an issue with far-reaching implications across geographies and demographies. It has been a particularly troubling issue across Africa in places like Mozambique, where women are still struggling to access land rights despite sweeping reforms in inheritance laws. 

While India's economy is allegedly suffering from harmful tourism dips from recent cases of rape and sexual violence, it should remain troubling for proponents of women's rights in India that many of India's women face linked economic and social woes that can perpetuate their suffering. The number of gender based issues in places like India can be overwhelming for those seeking to effect change. However, with growing evidence that many of the social and economic issues are linked, those pushing to improve gender practices in India should turn their attention to some of the related issues, and seek to understand problems such as inheritance rights not only in law, but also in practice, in order to work towards more meaningful progress for gender rights on the ground.