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South Sudan - 6 Nov 2021

Feature: Women have a right to inheritance in South Sudan

South Sudanese women face many challenges regarding inheritance even though the constitution of South Sudan referred to gender equality and non-discrimination. The customs and traditions of society discriminate against women and girls when it comes to inheritance and many a time they are not allowed to inherit from their husbands or fathers.

Leah Ferreira, a South Sudanese widow, says that she suffered greatly after the death of her husband, even the house she used to live in with her husband was not granted to her. She was chased away together with her children by her brother-in-law.

She had no choice but to return to her parent's home but life became difficult for her as a widow among her family, who sometimes insulted her. She was then forced to relocate and rent a small house with her children, even though life was hard for them since they had no money and no one to help them. 

"I am living under stress. There is no help from anyone and I believe during these days if your husband dies, it is difficult for you to find help from anyone. Unless, you have a brother who fears God," Ferreira says.

Legal activist Maut Lewis believes that women in South Sudan are the most affected group in regards to inheritance and this is due to customs and traditions that stipulate that women do not have the right to inherit because a woman can leave her father's house and marry anyone. Therefore, many believe that she will not be worthy of the inheritance. 

According to the lawyer, such cases are often decided in the civil courts or judged according to religious and traditional beliefs.

"Protecting women's rights to inheritance according to the law lies through gender equality in the division of inheritance and others, and since South Sudan as a country has signed international conventions for gender equality and non-discrimination based on gender, this is per Article (9) of the Constitution of South Sudan, which says that any international law signed by South Sudan is one of the Bill of Rights stipulated in the country’s constitution,” Maut tells Radio Tamazuj.

He adds: “So, discrimination of women based on gender in the division of inheritance is considered an unacceptable misconception, and what is required is capacity building and improvement of an institution to protect women’s rights to inherit.”

Laura Ashula, a South Sudanese woman, says that widowed women in South Sudan will not inherit what their husbands leave them because there is a belief that women do not have the right to inherit and the relatives of the deceased always possess everything.

"Men are the ones who always come and say you do not have the right to this inheritance. It belongs to our brother. Even if you have children, no one will hear you, but they want to take possession of everything,” Ashula says. “Sometimes they give you only a little. These are the challenges of women in inheriting. As for the girls, they will not inherit, but everything goes to the boys on the pretext that the girls will be married at any moment. So the inheritance goes to the boys.” 

According to Chol Deng Garang, the issue of inheritance in South Sudan is focused on the property such as land and or money.

"We in South Sudan do not have identification papers to register the ownership of things in the name of the wife because the civil registry was not completed,” Deng explains. “Land documents are not issued in the name of the partners, but in the name of the owner (husband) alone, which facilitates the sale process without notifying the wife. This is one of the weaknesses in South Sudan.”

Deng adds that the lack of eligibility or exclusion of women and girls is due to the fact property is not registered in the name of the wife or children, so the brothers of the deceased husband often come and claim the latter’s property.

“They say the property belongs to our late brother, but if the documents are registered in the name of the wife, no one can take it because it is legally registered,” Deng says.

Juba resident John Laku says that a widow who has children has a right to inheritance if only to look after and to protect her children. 

"The family of the deceased is directly responsible for protecting and providing for the widow's family. The widow has the right to take all the property to support and protect the children of the deceased husband,” Laku avows. “In many cases, the brothers of the deceased do not provide for the children of the departed.”

Chief Samson Lado Kulang, says in the past a widow did not have the right to inherit her husband’s property but was the responsibility of the deceased's existing brothers.

"Currently, some voices are calling for a woman to inherit, but according to the tradition, if a woman has children, they are the ones who inherit their father’s property,” Chief Lado contends. “Being a house or financial wealth or something else, the sons are the ones who inherit them. The daughters will not inherit because they will be married off to other families.” 

According to the social researcher Zakia Musa, different cultures in South Sudan play a big role in shaping society and that sections of society embrace negative cultural practices. 

"Sometimes we find that in case of a widow marries another person after the death of her husband, the family of her late husband takes all the property away from her saying it belonged to their brother,” Musa expounds. “Such things are what make a negative impact for the wife of the late who sometimes has children she wants to take care of. The other thing is that we find that girls also do not have rights to inherit under the pretext that they will get married.” 

Musa says that many societies believe that boys are the most important despite the presence of capable girls within this family. 

“All these things happen as a result of our culture in South Sudan. We believe that boy children are the backbone of families and girls will marry and go to another house, so girls or widows are not considered in the inheritance.” Musa adds. 

She says the law must be applied and women should be given their rights without discrimination. 

“Women must be informed of their rights through awareness of laws and constitutional rights, in addition to educating citizens, especially the chiefs who apply the laws of the civil courts,” Musa concludes. “Women must be given their rights, and there must be some kind of equality between men and women through inheritance following the country’s constitution.”

Negative cultural and traditional concepts remain obstacles to fully implementing the Bill of Rights per the country’s constitution, which affirms the principle of equality between men and women in everything, not inheritance alone.