Can’t a woman ask for her property share?

Published: August 25, 2014

Giving a woman dowry is seen as acceptable and inheritance is frowned upon. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way round? PHOTO: FILE

Giving a woman dowry is seen as acceptable and inheritance is frowned upon. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way round? PHOTO: FILE Giving a woman dowry is seen as acceptable and inheritance is frowned upon. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way round? PHOTO: FILE

A few days ago, I was at a get together with friends and the usual small talk somehow turned to the ‘controversial’ topic of women and their property rights.

One of them dramatically sighed and told her sympathisers how her ‘atrocious’ sister-in-law had the audacity to ask for her share of the family’s property. That opened up a Pandora’s Box as she was joined in by the other women who started sharing anecdotes of girls who had the audacity to ask for their share of their family’s property. I did not, and could not, understand what was so reprehensible about a girl asking for what is legally hers.

However, this was not the first time (nor the last, I’m sure), that I have heard people expressing such views. While our religion and law gives us the right to property, our society makes it a hush topic, a taboo. Islam has prescribed a certain share and percentage through the Shariah law, for women in all circumstances. Historically as well, it is a religion that initiated the rights of women at a time when they were treated as inferiors.

Hence, the blame falls on our society for perpetuating this discrimination. What makes this scenario stranger is that giving a woman dowry is seen as acceptable (in some cases necessary) and inheritance is frowned upon. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way round?

Whether the property in question is that of her father’s or her husband’s, a woman is usually deprived of her right to it. In the lower-income groups,this is either implemented by force (sometimes even physical), or just taken for granted since women are usually uneducated and ignorant about their rights. However, the practice of depriving a woman of her property rights is not restricted only to the less-affluent and uneducated class; it is also rampant in the middle and upper-classes. The only difference in the privileged classes is that the means employed are more covert.

Here the woman is not subjected to force (in the normal sense of the word), but is deprived via subtle tools, like family pressure and expectations, that are as unfair yet equally effective. While her right to the property is as legitimate as her brother’s, she still has to fight for it. She has to go through a long and bitter struggle during which, in most cases, she will be labelled as selfish and greedy. Very few women have the courage to go through it because they believe it will cause inevitable estrangement and a weakening, or even breaking, of family ties. This is why, before asking for what is rightfully theirs to begin with, women wonder whether it’s even worth it.

However, every woman needs to understand that her right to property is not just monetary. Her right to property is about gender equality, the progress of women and legitimate claims. It’s an important way to empower herself, economically as well as socially. A woman with property will have much more of a say in household matters and more freedom of choice in her life. In adverse circumstances, she will have the means to support herself and be independent.

When a woman gives up her share of the property, she is perpetuating a wrong custom. By forgoing her rights, she is setting a wrong example for her children, her daughters as well as her sons. In order to make a change, she should realise that she has to be the one to take the first step. This does not only mean claiming her right, but also supporting other women around her to stand for themselves, be it her daughters, sisters or, just as important, her sisters-in-law.

Coming back to the conversation with my friends – after listening to the woman who initiated this topic, I asked her what she would have done if she were in her sister-in-law’s shoes. Did she believe the same for herself that, being a woman, she had no right to the property of her father or husband? There was an uncomfortable silence, after which she said,

“I wanted my share of the property but I never got it”.

In most cases we really do need to speak up. The culprits are not just those who deny people of their rights but also those who silently watch from the sidelines. This is an issue which can only be addressed and changed if it is openly talked about and if the women, and perhaps more importantly the men of the family, take a stronger stance. Socially, it is perhaps the men who play a pivotal role in this matter.

A few years ago, my paternal aunts asked my father, who is their eldest brother, if they could have their share of the family lands. At that time, I was a teenager who had never given any thought to this issue. However, I will never forget how it was sorted out. When my parents discussed the issue, they did not talk about it like if they were giving away something of their own. Instead, they spoke about it like it was something which already belonged to my aunts and it just needed to be handed over to them. When my uncles protested, my father put his foot down and made it clear that this was their right.

That day my parents did not only protect the rights of their sisters but also set a great example for their children. It made me realise that I am one of those few lucky daughters who will not have to fight for her rights. More importantly, I am a daughter who knows that she is just as important and dear to her parents as her brother and will be treated as an equal.

Sumbla Rizwan

Sumbla Rizwan

A lawyer and chartered accountant by qualification, with an interest in social and political issues.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • shahrique

    Lucky you! Not all parents or brothers think like that. This topic needs more attention. Recommend

  • DNA

    unfortunately dowry or expenses incurred on a daughter’s wedding is considered to b her share in the inheritance n thats it.Recommend

  • Asy ma wail

    Sumbla ! I wish it wasn’t women who make it more difficult for the one who is asking for nothing more than her right. In 80% cases, I witnessed that the situation is exploited and worsen by other women in the family, like the one you mentioned, and instead of supporting the right, they try to silence the demand with their pressure tactics, even before the issue gets escalated to male family members.Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Well . her ‘share’ is supposed to be given to her in marriage ( called stree dhan in Sanskrit ) and her husband is supposed to take good care of her. She is supposed to be comfortable in her ‘own’ home life long. Hence this rule that she can’t ( need not ) have a share in her father’s property.Recommend

  • SK

    Great article on a very important issue. It is considered shameful for women in our society to ask for their rights. Women who stand up for themselves are considered classless.Recommend

  • Tariq Nawaz

    A Muslim Woman’s Right to Property:
    A few general rules of inheritance are: § The share of the male is double that of the female

    § A Muslim cannot bequeath more than one-third of his or her total property. However, if a woman has no blood relations and her husband the only heir, then she can will two-thirds of her property in his favour.

    § If all heirs claiming the property are equally near in terms of the relation to the deceased, they all have an equal share in the property. A closer heir excludes the more distant one.

    § A woman is entitled to inherit property as a daughter, widow, grandmother, mother, or sons daughter.

    § A widow is entitled to one-eighth share of her husbands property when there are children and one-fourth share when there are none. § A daughter gets half of whatever share her brother gets. In case she has no brother, she is entitled to a share of half the property.

    § A mother will get one-third share of her sons property when there are no children and one-sixth when there are children.

    § The maternal grandmother will get one-sixth the share of the total property only if there is no mother or grandfather. The paternal grandmother gets a share only if there is no father or grandfather.Recommend

  • Nobody

    Hmm, it seems I was shamefully ignorant that even straight forward things like property rights were a point of conflict or that women had to put up a fight for something that should already be theirs. Recommend

  • Anoop

    Pro-Women RIghts and Pro-Sharia at the same time.

    Not happening, Sister. Pick one and stick with it. Which is more important to you?Recommend

  • ajay gupta

    does live in the stone ages? there are still doubts and hesitations among women to ask for their rightful share? & no enforceable law to protect their claims?Recommend

  • menahil

    if only a woman would be seen as more than her designated roles in society.. #aperson with her own needs and independent security whether married or not..Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Quote – …. initiated the rights of women at a time when they were treated as inferiors.

    I see this mentioned quite often so feel it is necessary to provide some information which disabuses readers of this notion. I am not a fan of Manu Smriti (dated 600 – 200 BC), but here are specific quotes on equality before law and property rights of women (ET – pls allow, nothing religious here).

    9.12. A woman who is kept constrained in a home by noble men (husband, father, son) is still insecure. Thus it is futile to restrict women. Security of women would come only through her own capabilities and mindset.
    9.90-91. A woman can choose her own husband after attaining maturity. If her parents are unable to choose a deserving groom, she can herself choose her husband.
    9.130. A daughter is equivalent to a son. In her presence, how can any one snatch away her right over the property.
    9.131. A daughter alone has the right over personal property of her mother.
    9.212-213. If a person has no kins or wife, then his wealth be distributed equally among his brothers and sisters. If the elder brother refuses to give due share to other brothers and sisters, he is punishable by law.Recommend

  • extremist

    when its about money, even the liberals endorse the shariah. When its about purdah, then its all hush hush hushRecommend

  • mimi sur

    A society where woman is forced to wear “Burka” , can’t marry more than one man like men in the society , how can she ask for share in property ?Recommend

  • Zubair

    In my opinion, it is not an only women issue. I have seen many families fighting over property. Our judicial system is so weak that it is very easy to take stay orders through out the life. This problem can be minimized by advising our elders to write will. But off course it needs amendment in law and its implementation.Recommend

  • Moiz Omar

    If a woman owns the property she should have full rights to it.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    Islam gives the a utmost value and rights to women. Do not speak what you don’t know of. Recommend

  • BlackJack

    There is no such ‘supposed to’, and just because stree and dhan are Sanskrit words does not make dowry by another name more principled. What happens if all the parents property is tied up in immovable assets (like a house?). Should they sell their house and give half the money to the daughter and then buy a cheaper/ smaller house? Do you think that will happen?Recommend

  • Syeda KAzmi

    who said women cant remarry?? if u are talking about widows & divorcees, yes they can.. hope u didn’t mean “more than one man at the same time”..Recommend

  • A Chaudhry

    1. The opposite is more accurate: when it’s about Purdah, the maulvis endorse Sharia. When it’s about Women’s rights it’s all hush hush.
    2. It’s not about money, it’s about rights and equality.Recommend

  • A Chaudhry

    It is strange but yes this is a taboo topic. Perhaps it has been made taboo because that in itself will deter women from seeking their rights….Recommend

  • Egal Arian

    Yeah, right! The world is witnessing the wonders of peacefulness, human rights, and tolerance for diversity and women among the faithful!Recommend

  • Anoop

    Can a Woman marry 2 men at the same time?

    Modernity is about equality of sexes, isn’t it?Recommend

  • Sammy

    And why haven’t we seen these ‘rights’ that you speak of, in any Muslim country (I mean other than being a conspiracy of Jews and Americans etc)?Recommend

  • UtkarshSinghNain

    The only rights it gives to women are that of property and divorce.

    In every other way it categorises women to be subservient to their husbands.Recommend

  • observer

    Are you sure? Why then a testimony of a woman is equal to one half of a man’s? Why is daughter’s inheritance is equal to one-half of the son? Recommend

  • نائلہ

    Islam is perfect. It’s followers are not. Got it?Recommend

  • نائلہ

    Forced to wear the burka? LOLLLLLL.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    Wrong. Give me one example where Islam does not give a woman her rights.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    Allah has mentioned the wisdom behind specifying the number of two for testimony as being that a woman may forget or get confused, so the other woman can remind her, as He said: “…And get two witnesses out of your own men. And if there are not two men (available), then a man and two women, such as you agree for witnesses, so that if one of them (two women) errs, the other can remind her…” (2:282)

    And the reason for more inheritance (NOT in each case like you are presuming- for eg. they get full if they dont have brothers who need to support their own families) is that a man has more responsibilities, enduring many expenses in the process. Aside from his own expenses, a man must also take upon himself the expenses of his wife and children.

    The responsibilities that have been placed on the shoulders of men necessitates that they spend half of their income on women. In Islam, women are exempted from paying ANY living expenses, including their own–whether that be clothes or food.

    So yeh, I am pretty sure :)Recommend

  • BlackJack

    How are you able to judge perfection if you are imperfect yourself? Or could it just be possible that you don’t really know for yourself and just believe what you are told.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    “Just believe what you are told”- far from it.

    I have read the book, the ahadith and I find it to be the perfect set of rules, ethics etc. to live one’s life by. I never said I am perfect, but the religion of Islam is. Just cos you dont believe it, doesn’t mean I am believing what I am told. What other force can make countless people all over the world leave everything and prostrate in one direction FIVE times a day?Recommend

  • BlackJack

    What makes people do so many irrational things every day of their lives – there is no force required; it is in human nature to act irrationally, to desire things they do not need, and to very often blindly trust the source instead of dispassionately evaluating the content. And pls understand that since you are not perfect, then you cannot possibly judge perfection, since you cannot comprehend it – just like if I gave you a set of explanatory books and asked to you evaluate if non-abelian gauge theory is a perfect explanation for gravitation; you don’t have all the information, all the knowledge or an idea of the alternatives possible. All you know is a set of rules and explanations from the books that I give you that you will then be predisposed to agree with in absence of perfect knowledge and an inquiring mind.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    It’s Human nature to act irrationally and rationally. Don’t know why you always point towards the negatives. Who said I haven’t “evaluated the content”? You are the one over here who is talking about a religion he is not educated in. Recommend

  • Aneeqa

    Well picked and well written social issue which is hardly considered an issue anymore. Women are so accustomed to this deprivation that they hardly are aware of their claim over inheritance. Sadly oppressor in this case are dear ones that makes it even more hard for women to raise their voice and claim their right.Recommend

  • Shoaib

    Forced to wear “Burka”??? Really 0_O..Recommend

  • Shoaib

    I Really liked this “When a woman gives up her share of the property, she is perpetuating a wrong custom. By forgoing her rights, she is setting a wrong example for her children; her daughters as well as her sons. In order to make a change, she should realise that she has to be the one to take the first step. This does not only mean claiming her right, but also supporting other women around her to stand for themselves, be it her daughters, sisters or, just as important, her sisters-in-law.”

    the FIRST STEP.Recommend

  • BlackJack

    It’s Human nature to act irrationally and rationally – which is irrational. And your statement is also proof of the same.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    Listen to yourself! And you claim that I am speaking irrationally :/Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Stree dhan and Dowry are totally two different things .The owner of the Dowry is the husband and the owner of the Stree dhan is the wife.Recommend