Thursday, September 27, 2018
Tunisia’s president, Beji Caid Sebsi, has backed culturally controversial legislation that would allow Arab women to have equal inheritance rights, completely eroding Islamic law in the area. The Koran is very specific, stating that daughters are only allowed to inherit half of what their brothers receive. If the law passed it would be the first of its kind in the Arab world.
Muslim clerics decry the proposed legislation as an attack on Islam, and they are backed by the country's conservative party, Nahda. “No political party can make this gamble, particularly with elections next year.” The debate now has engulfed other Arab countries and has underlined the difficulty of upending a centuries-old status quo that shapes the contours of power and wealth across the Arab world.
But for millions of Arab women from Saudi Arabia to Morocco, there is a more modest goal: getting the limited assets to which they are currently entitled. Many women, many of them from rural areas, are denied their legal share of inherited assets, especially land. Male relatives can make it expensive and troublesome for daughters and sisters to receive any portion of their inheritances.
Inheritance laws are part of a broader web of legal and social barriers that perpetuate gender inequality in the Arab world. In many Arab countries only 1 in 4 women are employed or looking for work, and close to that number of Middle Eastern women have bank accounts.
See Heba Saleh, Arab Women Left in Inheritance Trap by Delayed Reforms, Financial Times, September 27, 2018.
Special thanks to Joel C. Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.