Tamar Ezer, ‘Inheritance Law in Tanzania: The Impoverishment of Widows and Daughters’

Tanzania’s inheritance laws are in urgent need of reform. Both customary and Islamic law, the two predominant systems of intestate succession in Tanzania, limit women’s inheritance on the basis of their gender. Under customary law, a widow is generally denied inheritance altogether: ‘[H]er share is to be cared for by her children, just as she cared for them’. Daughters inherit the smallest share with attached restrictions, and under governing Islamic law, women only inherit half as much as men. Tanzania’s inheritance laws thus impoverish women and leave their survival at the mercy of men. The effect of these discriminatory laws is further magnified by procedural inequalities, exploitative practices, and the spread of AIDS. Procedural laws favor the selection of male administrators, even if they are distant relatives of the deceased, thus excluding women from the management of estates. Women also have to contend with widespread property grabbing, eviction from their homes under witchcraft accusations, and sometimes even the loss of their children by abusive relatives. Women in polygamous families have to further split any meager inheritance they do receive. Suffering is especially severe in light of the AIDS pandemic, which has increased the number and vulnerability of widows and orphans. The extent of this crisis is evident in the numerous Tanzanians seeking assistance for inheritance-related problems.

Ezer, Tamar, Inheritance Law in Tanzania: The Impoverishment of Widows and Daughters (2006). 7 Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law 599 (2006).

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