17 February 2014

Kenya: UN Experts Urge Kenya to Repeal Discriminatory Sections of Marriage Property Act

United Nations human rights experts today urged Kenya to repeal sections of its Marriage and Property Act which effectively strip women of 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.

Calling the provisions "serious retrogressive steps" in the protection of women's equal access to land and property, Ms. Raday stressed in a news release issued by the Geneva-based Working Group, that they are also in violation of Kenya's international and regional human rights obligations.

"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," said Ms. Raday, adding: "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's appeal has been endorsed by a host of other UN independent experts, including: Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda; the UN 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.

According to the new release, the Special Rapporteurs have engaged with the Kenyan Government concerning the provisions of the Act in question, and expressed their readiness to assist the authorities in reviewing and bringing the Act into line with international human rights standards.

Special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.

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