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Victory for Malawi women as Act gives spouses inheritance rights

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Summary of story from Open Society Foundations, November 22, 2011

The parliament in Malawi has this month recognised that women have the right to inherit from the marital estate.

Previously, women had no rights after the death of their husbands, often leaving them and their children homeless after having their property grabbed by the relatives of their deceased husbands.

The new Deceased Estates Act protects the spouse’s and children’s share in the estate and makes property-grabbing an offence, punishable by a fine or imprisonment.

This success for Malawi has not come without a struggle. Women’s rights group Women in Law in Southern Africa has been fighting to reform the inheritance laws in Malawi for 12 years.

The campaign previously met resistance from the largely-male parliament, with ministers arguing that women may start killing their husbands in order to access property – a sentiment not confined to Malawi, with UNICEF (the UN children’s charity) figures estimating that women only own about 1 percent of property worldwide.

Now that the law recognizes women in Malawi, the next step is education. Malawi’s women will only benefit if judges and communities are educated about the new law.

An important milestone has been reached, but the struggle for justice continues with a focus on implementation.

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