PROPERTY RIGHTS OF WOMEN IN ANGLOPHONE CAMEROON
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The concept of women’s right to property is a very important concept in Human Rights discourse. This is because culture can be used to achieve women’s rights to property especially when positive gender neutral changes are made in their customary laws. Despite the measures put in place by the Cameroon government to promote equitable ownership of properties, most of the regions still carry out biased practices on rights to own property which favors only men. The main goal of this study was to examine the property rights of women in Anglophone Cameroon. Women’s marginalization is a prevalent occurrence in Cameroon. Cameroon has yet to properly implement international and national legal mechanisms that protect vulnerable groups such as women. In order to achieve the aim of the research, the work adopts the qualitative research methodology and employs interviews and doctrinal methods of research. The findings revealed that there is a good legal framework for the protection of women’s rights to ownership of property in Cameroon. The starting point for this legal framework is the Constitution of Cameroon which is the Supreme law of the land. The findings further reveals that women were considered as property and property could not own property, however, the common law position changes discriminatory practices against women, a woman can own property and can dispose the property before marriage, in marriage and even after marriage depending on the type of matrimonial regime chosen. A number of recommendations are made in the study, onew of which isb that Organizations working on women’s rights, human rights and land rights should continue to raise awareness on women’s land rights through a comprehensive information, education, and communication campaign. They should also work to challenge the perception that women are not capable enough to handle land and property. Additionally, NGOs should also offer free legal advice and aid to facilitate rural women to improve their access to land.
The debate about women’s rights in general and widows’ particularly, has been of much concern to women, policy makers and international organizations alike. In a typical traditional African milieu, the woman virtually finds herself in an essentially male-dominated environment. The various customs that obtain in most African countries, the institutions that regulate day to day life are controlled by the men-folk. In this way, women have very limited rights. Upon the breakdown of a customary law marriage through death, the widow suddenly finds herself as an object of inheritance. Notwithstanding that this practice is contrary to the law cases abound which show that this practice is instead gaining ground.
In many Sub-Saharan African countries, inheritance is a crucial mode of property transfer. An individual’s or group’s accumulated physical assets (or rights of access to these assets) are distributed according to social convention, personal preferences, and potentially static designs at significant life course transitions such as death, birth, marriage, and retirement.
This redistribution of assets can have a positive or negative impact on the economic paths of various individuals. Property heirs gain economic security as a result of the acquisition of new assets or the confirmation of their rights to previously accessed assets. Other people may lose their previously existing rights to assets as a result of inheritance decisions that exclude them.
Women’s poverty research frequently focuses on the safety of women’s access to assets, particularly in African contexts. Women’s land ownership leads to increased welfare, productivity, equality, and empowerment, according to a theory that has gained traction in international development policy circles. For a variety of reasons, inheritance has gained prominence as a public policy issue in African countries.
Most notably, inheritance has been addressed as part of a larger problem of discriminatory property rights regimes against women. Changes to inheritance systems have been advocated as part of a broader reform agenda in international and domestic campaigns to address women’s unequal property rights in African countries.
Insecure recognition as spouses with rights to marital property, either during or after the period of marriage, is a major vulnerability for inheritance rights experienced by the vast majority of women in African countries. This is true in both customary and statutory governance systems. The following are important issues related to this insecurity: customary marriages can be entered or exited informally, making spouse status disputable during inheritance disputes; customary marriages are rarely legally registered, so women cannot claim spouse status under statutory inheritance laws. Statutory laws do not take into account a wife’s contributions to the acquisition of marital property, and statutory inheritance laws do not adequately protect wives in polygamous unions.
Equal rights for men and women, as well as the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, are fundamental human rights and UN values. In light of this, a number of international conventions protecting women’s rights to inheritance have been ratified by states, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the International Bill of Rights, and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, to name a few.
Property generally denotes anything tangible or intangible that is capable of ownership, and which for the purpose of succession is of such permanence that it continues to exist and be used beyond the death of the owner. Property also means “ownership” and ownership describes the relationship between persons with respect to a thing. So it is possible for different concurrent ownership rights of varying magnitudes to subsist over the same property.
Gifts are also a type of property. When it comes to gifts made in contemplation of marriage, the Common Law position was that recovery of any of the gift made by one party to the other depended on whether or not the donor was in breach of the Contract. The new position today is provided in the provisions of Section 3(1) of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970. By virtue of this provision, a party to an engagement to marry who makes a gift of property to the other one on the condition that it shall be returned if the agreement is terminated shall not be prevented from recovering the property by reason only of his having terminated the agreement.
Talking about property owned before and after marriage, Any assets acquired before the marriage are considered separate property, and are owned only by that original owner. A spouse can, however, transfer the title of any of their separate property to the other spouse (gift) or to the community property (making a spouse an account holder on bank account). Separate property includes: Property owned by just one spouse before the marriage; Property given to just one spouse before or during the marriage; Property inherited by just one spouse. We also have movable and immovable property
In Cameroon, there is a framework in place to protect women’s inheritance rights. The constitution of Cameroon, the Civil Status Registration Ordinance, the Non-contentious Probate Rules of 1954, Section 46 (1) of the Administration of Estates Act 1925.
The landmark case of Zamcho Florence Lum v. Chibikom Peter Fru, decided by the Supreme Court, lends credence to the fact that women’s right to inheritance is protected in Cameroon. The Supreme Court of Cameroon, in overturning the Court of Appeal’s decision, held that the customary principle denying a female the right to inherit her father’s property or to be declared next of kin is contrary to natural justice, equity, and good conscience.
There is a legislative structure in place in Cameroon to preserve women’s right to inherit, but it is not without problems. Women’s marginalization, or, to put it another way, inequality, is a prevalent occurrence in Cameroon. Cameroon has yet to properly implement international and national legal mechanisms that protect vulnerable groups such as women. Women are subjected to archaic and discriminatory traditions.
A woman’s right to inherit property may be taken away if the husband does not pay her dowry. Despite the fact that section 61(2) of the Civil Status Registration Ordinance 1981 prohibits the payment of dowry as a condition for a valid marriage, in Maya Ikome v Manga Ekemason, the Buea Court of Appeal in Cameroon awarded the family property acquired over thirty years of marriage by a widower and his deceased wife on the grounds that the man’s non-payment of dowry rendered the marriage invalid. The civil status registration ordinance is also silent about the property rights of women after divorce
Women are discriminated against in customary law, and women are not considered to be landowners. Most customs only acknowledge women’s usufruct rights over land, not ownership rights, even if the land is purchased by the women themselves. In patrilineal and matrilineal communities, women’s right to land is derived from men as wives, daughters, sisters, or in-laws. Patriarchy, the notion in a world where men dominate and control women, has aided this scenario.
The researcher seeks to answer the following questions which can be categorized under general questions and a set of specific questions.
Are women’s property rights respected in Anglophone Cameroon?
What are the instruments put in place regarding women property right?
Are property right of women respected in Anglophone Cameroon?
What are the policy considerations?
The objectives are divided into general and specific objectives
To investigate women’s property rights in Anglophone Cameroon.
The goal of the research is to critically examine the property rights of women in Anglophone Cameroon
- To examine the measures put in place regarding women property right
- To determine whether women’s property right are respected in Anglophone Cameroon
- To propose some recommendations that can be taken to guarantee women’s property right