Women and Property Ownership: Fewer women own property in India. Even with the recent landmark judgment which gave daughters equal birth right to their father’s property, the number of women with property ownership in India is far less than men. Men still buy and inherit property more than women and this amounts to a wider gender gap in our society.
As per the recent findings in the research paper by Professor Hema Swaminathan and economists Isis Gaddis and Rahul Lahoti on Women’s Legal Rights And Gender Gaps In Property Ownership In Developing Countries, in 40 developing countries 66 percent of married men own housing compared to 22 percent of married women. The authors of the research paper took data from 41 developing countries to find the relationship between women’s legal rights and their property ownership. One of the key findings of the paper was that countries with legal systems focused on giving equal rights to men and women have more women with property ownership. India is among the countries which do not take account of women’s non-monetary contributions to the household.
More gender-equitable legislation providing for equal ownership rights for men and women is associated with a 15 to 18 percent increase in the probability to own the house; legislation valuing non-monetary contributions to the marriage is associated with an 11 to 16 percent increase; and legislation mandating equal remuneration for equal work is associated with a 10 percent increase in women’s chances of owning the house. In rural areas, equal ownership rights are associated with a 21 percent increase in women’s housing ownership, while the valuation of non-monetary contributions is associated with a 12 to 20 percent increase in women’s housing ownership.
Although not very pronounced, due to more men owning housing and land in India the gender gap comes to 43 and 29 percentage points respectively. Another important finding of the research paper was that the gender gap is much more pronounced in disadvantaged regions of developing countries which results in fewer women owning property.
The paper also cites findings from earlier studies which established why property ownership among women is significant. It has been established that a woman’s agency and decision-making privileges depends on what assets she holds. Especially in case of married women who need to have an option to fall back on in an event that the marriage falls apart. When women have more control over the household, which happens with agency, they make more investments in health, education, food and amenities for their children. This results in a whole lot better standing of the generation that comes after them. Two factors that lead to property ownership by women are inheritance and marital regimes.
The disadvantage in property ownership experienced by women reflects a variety of factors, most importantly discriminatory property laws.
Professor Hema Swaminathan, a faculty member in the Public Policy area at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore who authored the said paper spoke to SheThePeople and answered some questions.
Why do you think marriage even at this age remains a strong economic preposition for women in India?
A major issue in India is that there is no recognition of the concept of marital assets or marital property. India follows a separation of property marital regime where assets accumulated post marriage are owned by the person whose name is on property documents. This is in contrast to community of property regimes (either full or partial) where there is a concept of marital assets that automatically gives equal ownership to the spouses. The community of property regimes thus recognise that there is both a monetary and non-monetary contribution to the building of marital assets.
The general nature of forming romantic relationships seems to be changing among young people and they are more averse to marriage. Do you think inheritance will then hold better prospects for land ownership?
India’s martial regime is completely biased against women – it nullifies women’s contribution to the household or rather says that her contribution is valueless. In the Indian patriarchal ecosystem, women do not really get inheritance from their parents. Many women are not in the paid labour force and even when they do participate, they are largely in the informal sector with low wages. Women have few chances to purchase property. Amending the separation of property law to recognise women’s economic contribution to the household will have an immediate impact on their property ownership.
The patriarchal social norms attached to inheritance did not become void after the law came in. Do you think awareness and advocating among women help them take what is their right?
There are several reasons why laws are not particularly effective. It is now more than a decade since the Hindu Succession Amendment Act (2005) was passed. There is a broad knowledge of such laws, although, I am sure that awareness campaigns emphasizing their rights will help. But for several reasons, women do not want to claim their inheritance. First, women worry that claiming one’s natal property will rupture relations with their natal family. They do not want to lose their sole source of support. Often, the maintenance of social relations is contingent on not asking for rights.
Second, the society (including men and women) still view sons as their old age security. Older parents are reluctant to pass on property to their daughters and/or alienate their sons. However, daughters are now stepping up more than ever to take care of parents in old age, but the social norm of sons are caretakers is hard to shake off. Third, the question of dowry at the time of marriage is a problem. The money spent on marriage and dowry is considered premortem inheritance. But that is a problem as that money in the form of gold or cash or movable assets is never in the hands of the women. It is controlled and spent by the marital family. Women should refuse dowry and ask instead for a share of her inheritance at a later stage. Finally, but not the least important – our society is still deeply patriarchal – from the lowest official to all along the way up.
What possible legal steps should the legal system of India take to make it easier for female homemakers to have land or housing ownership?
The local panchayat officials, the patwaris are all mostly men and happy with patriarchal status quo. For norms to change, we need more advocacy and awareness among men as well as women. Gender equality lessons have to begin from infancy to ensure that women are treated as equal citizens in all spheres of life. We also need greater gender representation in all forms of governance. The 73rd Amendment has shown that it is possible and has rich rewards. If women are in charge of implementation of laws, change could happen faster.