Panel 7e. Gender and Property Rights in the Middle East and North Africa

Chair: Fatiha Talahite

Towards a Political Economy of Gender and Property Rights in the Middle East and North Africa
Fatiha Talahite, CNRS, Cresppa/Université Paris 8, France

The literature on gendered ownership and access to property, addressing the issue in the broader context of gendered distribution of wealth, provides evidence of significant gendered inequality. The source of this inequality is anchored in different causes, first of which relates to power relationships both within family and society. Access to individual private property is a major criterion of the doctrine concerning the empowerment of women. It relies on property rights as analyzed within economic theory, focusing on the economic effects of property rights in terms of efficiency with the implicit idea that there would be only one effective and efficient way to define property rights. In this view, the issue of the diversity of legal systems and traditions that underlie these property rights and the relationships to each other is hidden. A political economy concerning ownership should take into account political issues around the definition of property rights and incorporate within it the historical dimension, the variety of property right systems and their anchor within societies.

A Gendered Tool of Empowerment: Property Ownership and Women Choosing Waqf Endowment Beneficiaries
Randi Deguilhem, CNRS,TELEMME-MMSH/AMU, Aix-en-Provence, France.

The waqf endowment is a powerful tool in society on several intertwined levels; this has been studied in great detail over the past half century for Islamic societies and for the waqf created by individuals within other religious groups living with Islamic empires. One aspect of power linked to the socioeconomic and political tool of waqf lies in the endower’s choice of beneficiary for the waqf which s/he has created. Of course, this choice, with all the societal pressures and attachments linked to it, is only rendered possible with property ownership – itself defined in several ways, including public property used to create waqf assets via legal procedures (i.e. mîrî property put into waqf assets via a sanad al-tâbû contract). This presentation will focus on these questions with the study of a specific waqf endowment created by a woman at the end of the 19th century in Ottoman-era Damascus. It will analyse three different types of properties which this woman put into her waqf as revenue-creating assets and it will also focus on her choice of beneficiaries for her endowment: the two aspects of empowerment which fall within an endower’s capacities at the moment of the creation of her/his foundation.

Elusive traditions: women, collective land tenure, and the legacy of the French colonial project
Karen Rignall, College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky

There has been a recent surge of scholarly and activist interest in Morocco in the “soulaliyat,” women who are part of ethnic collectivities but excluded in from their rights in collectively owned land. The issue has become particularly prominent in the past decade as pressures on collectively-owned land increase because of urban expansion and speculation, among others. A common analysis of why women are excluded points to divisions between “traditional” and “modern” property regimes and land tenure legislation, with the regime governing collectively-owned land labeled as the former–either traditional customary law or a putative hybrid between customary and Islamic law. This paper challenges this interpretation by tracing the modern French colonial roots of contemporary collective tenure regimes. The research draws on scholars such as Mahmood Mamdani who point to the ways colonial authorities invoked, reified and even created customary legal traditions, producing new social formations in the process. I return to colonial decrees and legal justifications for codifying collective land tenure in the early period of the French protectorate (1912-1956) to argue that French colonial constructions of the ethnic collectivity (or tribe), of the household, and of women’s roles in these formations shape contemporary conflicts around the right of women in collective lands. Rather than reflecting communal land tenure’s “traditional” exclusion of women, these exclusions are a complex product of the colonial project, long-standing legal practice and tenure arrangements, and post-colonial social and economic transformations.

Re-negotiating Gendered Property Rights: The Case of Collective Lands in Morocco
Yasmine Berriane, URPP Asia & Europe, University of Zürich.

According to Moroccan law, collective lands belong to communities (referred to as ethnic groups, tribes, or villages) who have the right to manage and use the land under the supervision of the ministry of Interior. The land tenure regime applied to this form of properties is based on a combination of customary, religious and positive law. Until very recently this regime was clearly gendered: in reference to local customs, land was almost exclusively distributed among the male heads of family. While women could benefit indirectly from the usufruct of the land through their male relatives, they generally remained excluded from this form of ownership. When the transfer of collective land properties to private or public owners started to intensify in the late 1990s, this inherent inequality became much more visible and entered the public debate through protest actions triggered by the exclusion of women from the compensations distributed to the communities in exchange for their land. Thus, since 2010, a series of ministerial circulars introduced new regulations aimed at including women in the lists of beneficiaries. Using concrete examples collected in the surroundings of the city of Kenitra and Meknes, I will first illustrate the gendered character of the land tenure regimes applied to collective lands in Morocco. In a second part, I will present the changes introduced by the ministerial circulars and the main references used by the State to justify these reforms. In a third part, I will show some of the limits of this process of reform.

Legal Empowerment, Gender and Right to Property in Plural Iran
Zahra Maranlou, University of Oxford, UK

The discussion around gender and property rights in Iran is a very complex subject because the legal system itself is pluralistic. Women’s rights to property are governed by customary norms, religious codifications and state laws and regulations. State law includes the civil code, statutory law and supreme or constitutional law. However Civil Code, as well, is a written expression of Islamic jurisprudence relating to the property and inheritance. Although, women’s right to property in Muslim Societies has been receiving increasing scholarly attention, yet, much of this attention is focused on discriminatory legal entitlements. By way of contrast, this paper features a subjective approach to women’s rights to property. In this paper, I examine some of religious- cultural norms in limiting/furthering women’s property rights. I demonstrate that in Iranian plural socio-legal context legal entitlements are according to religion and legal culture. For instance, public perceives that women have to hold secure rights to property to provide social safety. In my survey study on women’s perceptions and access to justice in Iran, I found out that women have a better understanding of property rights under Islamic Law. This paper, therefore, attempts to understand the relationship between women and property which requires examination from a socio-legal perspective.

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