In March of 2002, the 11th Amendment of the Nepali civil code was enacted which revolutionized women’s property rights in the country. Under the new law a daughter inherits property in equal measure with her brothers. When she gets married, that property reverts to the natal family. When her husband dies however she and her children automatically inherit his property. This arrangement is far from perfect, but is a huge step up from the previous legal provisions.
Despite the improved legal situation, women still face tremendous social barriers to securing their property. According to a 2007 report by the All Nepal Women’s Association, only 5% of cultivated land is owned by women. A mere 10.84% of women in Nepal actually own land, despite the fact that 90.5% of working women are involved in agricultural occupations. Changing the law is not enough to address hundreds of years of cultural habits.
Most of the cases which WFN addresses deal at least on some level with property rights. Thankfully once we are able to properly file a case, the courts usually back us up - eventually. Property rights cases are expensive, however, and often time consuming. In addition to covering (or helping to cover) court fees, WFN has lawyers on staff who are able to support clients all the way through the length legal process.
CASE STORY :
The following story illustrates the overwhelming sense of freedom a woman obtains when she owns her own property, and how WFN is able to help secure those rights.
Binda Humagai was born in the Ramechhap district in Nepal. Her parents arranged her marriage when she was 15 years old. This is a translation of Binda's story, as told by her.
"My husband and I had been married for just one year when he married another woman and moved to Kathmandu. He visited me in the village from time to time but he treated me very badly, arguing with me, calling me bad things and often he would hit me. Once he broke my leg and I went to his parents but they did not support me. They said that my husband behaved like this because I had bad luck, that I am a woman and must accept my luck. I went to my parent's home but they were very poor and could not support me. They could hardly support themselves. I was a burden for my family and decided that it was my duty to live at my husband's house, but his family did not allow me in their home and they showed me a small plot of land where I could stay. I stayed at my neighbour's house for a few days and they helped me to build a very small house made of grass and stone. I lived in that little house and worked on my neighbour's land everyday. From time to time my husband and his new wife would come to the village to meet his parents, but every time they treated me very badly. They took my food, pots and other things and I could not do anything to stop them. I stayed in that village for 15 years and sometimes I thought that I had cried enough tears to fill a big pond. At that time I was 31 years old and believed that I was an old woman. I lost hope for my future.
Two years ago my husband and his new wife came to the village and at night they locked me in my house and tried to burn the house down. I escaped but all my possessions were burned. When I ran from the house my husband chased me with a knife. The neighbours heard my screams and they protected me. I went to the Ward Member who was elected from my area and explained my situation to him. He talked to my husband, but my husband threatened to kill him also. My husband told me that he had many cars and taxis in Kathmandu and if I visited Kathmandu he would smash me "like a tomato in the road". I was very afraid. Seeing my situation, the Ward Member gave me the telephone number of the Women's Foundation, gave me money for the bus fare to Kathmandu and I was able to find the Women's Foundation.
When I had met the woman at the Women's Foundation (WFN) I felt like I had a new life. They helped me to believe that I was not as old as I thought and they convinced me that I had the opportunity to create my own future. For two years I worked in the kitchen at the shelter and they showed me great appreciation for my cooking.
WFN's lawyers registered my case in court and after two years I have finally succeeded in getting money from my husband for the property which I am entitled to. I received NRS 200,000 (USD 2700) and used most of this money to buy a small piece of land in Kathmandu where I have built a house to live in. I feel I have respect from other people now and have learned to read and write a little. The women at the shelter showed me great support and helped me to believe that I am worth something. WFN is now helping me to prepare my land for farming. Without their help I am not sure what my life would be like. I am excited about my future and even though I will miss my friends at the shelter I feel proud that I have my own land and my own life."