Violation of Women’s Property Rights in Kenya

Women in Kenya constitute 80 percent of the agricultural labor force and provide 60 percent of farm income, yet own only 5 percent of the land.

Millions of women in Kenya suffer abuses of their equal rights to own, inherit, manage, and dispose of property. These violations are degrading, discriminatory, and sometimes deadly. After their property rights are violated, many women end up impoverished, struggling to meet their families’ basic needs, living in decaying shacks in dangerous slums, and vulnerable to violence and diseases.

There are several cases here in Kenya where women are excluded from inheriting, evicted from their lands and homes by in-laws, stripped of their possessions, and forced to engage in risky sexual practices in order to keep their property—all because they are women. When they divorce or separate from their husbands, they are frequently expelled from their homes with only their clothing. Married women can seldom stop their husbands from selling family property. Women who fight back are often beaten, raped, or ostracized.

A. Nyakumabor, whose husband died of AIDS in 1998 and left her HIV-positive with five children, went from being relatively affluent to destitute after her husband’s family took her property. Her in-laws grabbed household items from her Nairobi home and took over her house and land on the island of Rusinga even though Nyakumabor helped pay to construct the house. Soon after her husband’s death, Nyakumabor’s father-in-law called a family meeting, told her to choose an inheritor, and ordered her to be cleansed by having sex with a fisherman. Nyakumabor refused, causing an uproar. She felt ostracized and quickly returned to Nairobi. A brother-in-law took over her land and livestock on Rusinga without compensating Nyakumabor. She now struggles to meet her family’s needs, and her landlord in Nairobi’s Kibera slum has threatened to evict her because she cannot always pay rent on time


Women’s rights to property are unequal to those of men in Kenya. Shockingly, even government officials who are supposed to be on the front line in protecting women’s property rights believe that women cannot be trusted with or do not deserve property. The devastating effects of property rights violations – including poverty, disease, violence, and homelessness – harm women, their children, and Kenya’s overall development.

The abuses reflect Kenya’s traditional, patriarchal property systems and the government’s failure to combat discrimination against women. Women’s insecure property rights contribute to low agricultural production, food shortages, underemployment, and rural poverty. Losing property and undergoing harmful customary practices also increase women’s vulnerability to HIV infection.

The Kenyan government must act soon enough to stop women’s property rights abuses. Laws and institutions must be reformed to improve protections of women’s equal property rights. They must also take steps to change discriminatory traditions and customs based on gender stereotypes and the notion of women’s inferiority.



About the Author

Sharon Adisa
Sharon is a writer and editor who strives to continually further both the depth and breadth of her skills as a writer so as to contribute superior work and deliver client and customer satisfaction.

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