By Tharmini Kenas firstname.lastname@example.org
Property ownership by women
The United Nations has drawn up 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030, including one that calls for gender equality. Among others, the goal of “achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls” involves property ownership and control over land. It is to address the fact that many women around the world are victims of religious and customary systems that deny them their rights to property ownership.
While religious and customary laws have granted equal ownership of the property to couples, women are often found to be treated unjustly based on custom and tradition.
This then raises the following questions:
- Why do women still face unequal share of the inheritance of land and property?
- Why are women still struggling to claim ownership of what is rightfully theirs?
- Why do many women still need to register their property under the names of their husbands, brothers, fathers or sons?
It is to be noted that Malaysian common law, as well as religious laws, grant equal rights to women when it comes to land and property ownership.
According to Prof Siraj Sait, University of East London Director of Research and Director of the Centre for Islamic Finance, Law and Communities, religions and customary traditions across the globe are often multi-layered and can lead to misinterpretation of women’s property rights.
“The approach towards women’s property rights is shifting from needs to rights approach. The shift is from a charity approach to needs approach followed by empowerment approach to the rights-based approach,” he said at a training session during the World Urban Forum 2018 held in Kuala Lumpur in February.
Titled ‘Human Rights-Based Approach to Women’s Land and Property Rights in the Muslim World’, the session was participated by stakeholders and women rights champions from countries including Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Jamaica, USA and South Africa.
Religious and customary laws
In some cases, the misinterpretation of religious laws and the enforcement of customary laws have resulted in women being denied their rights to property ownership. Land and property rights were assumed to be exclusive to men because of the patriarchal nature of the society and the ancient social beliefs the women are forced to follow. As time passed, land and property exclusivity to men became the norm and accepted by both men and women. Steps being taken by the government and private bodies to educate women on property ownership are often limited to urban areas. Women in rural areas, without access to education and information, are often left with nothing.
Significance of owning property
- Financial freedom from property ownership
Property is seen as a durable asset and low-risk investment. Often, women are limited to liquid assets that are highly likely to be sold off first in the face of tribulation. Owning property gives them long-term economic assurance and a nest egg for their old age.
- Property as an empowerment tool
Women with property ownership have rights to decision-making on various aspects of their lives. Owning properties will give them social status and respect in the community that might be lacking otherwise. With decision-making rights come bargaining power. Thus they will be empowered, invulnerable and unscathed in the face of tragedy and unforeseen circumstances.
Malaysian women in the property industry
While issues of women’s property rights remain at the grassroots level, many women in Malaysia can be seen taking major strides in the property industry. However, this was not the case in the 1980s when women were deemed incompetent to purchase properties and finance loans. As a result, women were reluctant to venture into the property industry.
Property investor and author Dr Renesial Leong recounted her experience in the 1980s when she was scouting for a sub-sale unit. “I remember setting an appointment to view a unit, and the male owner told me point blank that he would only proceed with the viewing if my dad, the decision-maker, came along!” Today, the property scene in Malaysia has progressed to be more inclusive of women.
However, many women still lack the courage to enter the industry. “One of the main reasons might be not understanding the game enough to have the courage to take that first step,” said Dr Leong. “I strongly urge all women out there, regardless of their age, to consider owning properties as one of their main investments. Done correctly, the benefits are profound and financial security is long-lasting,” she said in emphasizing the fact that property is indeed an empowerment tool for women.
> So dear women, clear the cloud of societal norms this Women’s Day and get a grip on your property rights.