Target: Mrs. Asha Menon, Member Secretary, National Legal Services Authority, India
Goal: Ensure women have access to equal inheritance rights in India
In India, tradition dictates that sons inherit land. An amendment to Indian law granted women equal inheritance rights eight years ago, but a study conducted by US land rights organization Landesa and United Nations Women India found that this law is barely followed in rural communities. The study revealed that of more than 1,400 women interviewed whose parents have agricultural property rights, only 13% of these women expect to inherit or have inherited any of that land. Those who do not inherit land are at a deep economic disadvantage.
Women who live in rural areas represent an important component of India’s agricultural sector, with almost 80% laboring in India’s fields. There is both a social justice reason for granting women the inheritance rights they are entitled to, as well as an economic reason. Giving women the land they deserve will allow entitled women to have more access to upward mobility in their own society. Granting entitled women land will also ensure that they have more economic control over the land, increasing agricultural production. If land is in their name, they have access to bank loans and agricultural extension programs such as government subsidized seeds.
Women also funnel income to their children’s education and healthcare in greater numbers than men, allowing their children to be more upwardly mobile and to have opportunities that could impact the economic well-being of the agricultural communities as a whole. But when women are denied land they deserve, the opposite effects occur, keeping women and their children in poverty.
Based on the research conducted across three states in India, myriad reasons exist for the lack of recognition of women’s inheritance rights. The study revealed that cultural biases prevent women from asserting their right to inherit land, and many women feared creating conflict within the family unit. Indeed, many powerful community leaders and other stakeholders either do not recognize women’s inheritance rights, or oppose them, including government officials, religious leaders, parents and brothers. With both direct advocacy and community trainings, this can change. Sign this petition and tell the National Legal Services Authority to advocate for and conduct trainings for women entitled to land rights and their families in order to reverse a trend that is harmful to women, and harmful to India.
Dear Mrs. Asha Menon,
I am compelled to draw your attention to an important legal issue facing women in India’s agricultural communities. As you must be aware, in 2005 India amended its inheritance laws to ensure women equal inheritance rights to those that men enjoy. While nearly 80% of women living in rural communities are field laborers, many of these women are not receiving access to land titles they deserve. A recent study finds that only 13% of women whose parents own agricultural land expect to inherit or have already inherited the land. This means that many women are without title to the land they have a legal right to. Despite the law, the study found that many community leaders, parents and brothers believe that women should not inherit land or oppose women inheritance rights.
This is a problem for India. Not allowing women to inherit the land they are entitled to when they work in such large numbers in the field prevents innovation. Without proper title, they are not able to get bank loans or take advantage of government agricultural subsidies. Further, women in impoverished rural communities are kept from upward mobility, instead of benefiting from the profits of the land and in turn channeling income toward their children’s education and healthcare. Cycles of poverty in these communities, then, are allowed to continue.
The National Legal Services Authority can do something about this. Section 12 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 requires that you consider women as part of your mandate to provide free legal services to the underprivileged sections of India’s society. Women’s inheritance rights have been overlooked for too long. I ask that you make this issue a priority, and organize and train legal aid lawyers in rural regions to represent women in these cases, informing women and their families of equal inheritance rights and ensuring that women have access to the land they deserve.
[Your Name Here]
Photo Credit: McKay Savage via flickr