UN human rights experts urge Kenya to repeal discriminatory sections in Matrimonial Property Act
February 17, 2014
A group of United Nations human rights experts today urged Kenya to repeal sections of the Marriage and Property Act which effectively deny women the right to marital property upon divorce or death of their spouse, unless they can prove they made a contribution to the acquisition of the property during their marriage.
“It is expected that very few women will be able to demonstrate such a contribution under the new provisions, since few Kenyan women have land title deeds in their own names and even less hold deeds jointly with men,” warned independent expert Frances Raday, who currently heads the UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice.
“Such provisions are serious retrogressive steps in the protection of women’s equal access to land and property, and are in violation of Kenya’s international and regional human rights obligations,” Ms. Raday stressed. “They clearly discriminate against Kenyan women and are squarely at odds with equality provisions enshrined in the Kenyan Constitution.”
The Act, which came into force on 16 January 2014, could result in many Kenyan women losing access to the lands where they live and farm. Many rural households in Kenya are headed by women, who rely on the land not only to produce food, but also on the income generated by it to access health care services and educational opportunities for themselves and their families.
“Women will effectively have no security of tenure, or place to live with their children if their husband leaves them or dies, which will also increase their risk of experiencing violence,” the expert added. “The passage of the Act will have a detrimental impact on the right to food, the right to adequate housing and the right to an adequate standard of living for Kenyan women, children and communities.”
Ms. Raday’ appeal has also been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda; the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter; the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its causes and consequences, Rashida Manjoo, and the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik.
“We regret the promulgation of this legislation in its current form and urge the Government of Kenya to repeal discriminatory sections of this Act, and to continue with the country’s advances towards full equality between men and women as established in the Kenyan Constitution,” the group of experts stated.
The Special Rapporteurs have engaged with the Kenyan Government concerning the provisions in question of the Marriage and Property Act, and expressed their readiness to assist the authorities in reviewing and bringing the Act into line with international human rights standards.
The United Nations human rights experts are part of what it is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.
They are charged by the Human Rights Council to monitor, report and advise on human rights issues. Currently, there are 37 thematic mandates and 14 mandates related to countries and territories, with 72 mandate holders. In March 2014, three new mandates will be added. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.