The Eighth of March & Women Unified by Suffering:
Inheritance, the Most Severe Cycle of Violence
By: Hedaya Shamun *
Persons responsible for causing women’s denial of inheritance were their brothers, who are either a Legal Counsel, Imam of a mosque, Director of a civil institution, PhD degree holder, etc… The most perpetrators of depriving women of their inheritance are brothers followed by parents. The denial of women's inheritance is not related to the social, educational, or cultural levels, or even to the degree of religiosity. Rather, it is related to wealth that must be owned by the powerful and deprived of the powerless. The cultural and social heritage is controlled by men as a force on the riches of their families; those men do not accept sharing the riches with women, especially the married. This becomes more difficult when the inheritance is land and property in kind.
Many stories told by women deprived of their inheritance are capable of beating the bell of violence of women. The social acceptance of women’s denial of inheritance contributes mainly in the consecration and reproducing the deliberate culture of violence against women, and it intentionally overlooks their humanitarian and legitimate rights in the legacy of their families. The control and desire to possess the wealth of the family has become a male tradition; few men accept to give women their legitimate shares of inheritance. It is found that trying to maintain wealth may push up the cycle of violence to the highest level, including murder. Some women were killed in attempt to access to inheritance, and others’ reputations were distorted due to false accusations that are not unfounded
In addition, trying to maintain wealth may lead to other levels of physical violence, and more painfully psychological violence. Women may also be abandoned by family; this makes them feel oppressed, and as a result they feel forced to return to the shadow of men, who are considered a source of protection even though they are the perpetrators of such violence against women. It seems that males understand well the nature of society and power relations and realize that women are the weakest link in society. They are aware of that leaving women unprotected is unbearable to them. In fact, it was found in a research study on the denial of women's inheritance that the main reason for women not demanding their inheritance was the fear of causing problems and family disintegration that they do not desire to happen.
"Buthaina" was forced by her brother, who is a medical doctor, to sign a concession paper, disclaiming her right to the inheritance of her father; this was to allow her to marry. When she refused to sign, her brother deprived her of marriage and practiced pressure to force her to disclaim her inheritance. After eight years following the death of her father, Buthaina is still unmarried and deprived of her right to inheritance.
"Nahla" is a married woman whose economic status is extremely bad. Her brothers forced her to sign a concession paper, waiving her inheritance right of her father’s land and property to them. At the same time, her husband exercised violence against her, burning her clothes and forcing her to leave the house. This was an attempt of forcing her to claim her right. She found herself the victim of two greedy parties. She could not claim her right because the brothers threatened to break up familial relationship. And she could not live with her husband, who still covets her inheritance right.
For Um Mohammed (the mother of Mohammed), her story of suffering continues to speak about the injustice of her paternal uncle and his sons. Instead of being supportive in the absence of her late father, who left her and her other 5 sisters a land and house gotten by their father’s hard working in addition to their efforts since they left school to help him then, her uncle and his sons were the cause of her and sisters’ sufferings. The greedy uncle and his sons beat and attacked them with knives, trying to prevent them from reporting a complaint to the police. Finally, they could get to the police and report the attack. However, the sisters’ suffering continues under the intransigence of their uncle and his sons, who occasionally try to force them to relinquish their rights. What injustice that speaks on behalf of its perpetrators!
The eldest daughter, Um Ahmed, had been claiming her right and the right of her mother (the heirs of the family) of more than 100 donums from her maternal uncles for 45 years; the mother of Um Ahmed did not receive this right and passed away, feeling oppressed. Yet, Um Ahmed continues claiming her right and the right of her three sisters. But, her maternal uncles and their children broke up their familial relationship with her and her three sisters and denied their rights. Um Ahmed is still home praying for her children to get life sustenance, not forgiving the perpetrators of her denial of inheritance.
Samira was denied her right of two and a half donums by her brother. She raised a complaint against her brothers after encountering certain difficulties, including her critical, financial situation, the martyrdom of one of her sons during the latest Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, and the injury of another son who is in need of surgery. Although she did not stop attempts to reconciliation and peace through tribal chiefs, police, and lawyers, the brothers did not bat an eyelid and stayed away from her, and she was not given her right. She is torn by the tyranny of her brother, weakness of the relatives, silence of community, and law procedures that take forever to take her right and live an auspicious day.
There are many stories of women that are painful to death. The most heinous story was Heba’s, who was kidnapped by her paternal half brothers. She was also assaulted by one of her brothers, who hit her head with a machete in her mother's house. This brother justified his attack by saying it was an issue of honor the issue, and he washed the shame. Fortunately, it was her destiny to live, and she was supported by the good people. She is still alive to bear witness to injustice and cruelty of greedy relatives that deprive women of their rights to inheritance and of their dignity regardless to community ties, as if women are the only ones who claim to maintain these ties while they are impeccable.
The Women’s Affairs Center (WAC) has observed 100 cases of women deprived of their inheritance in the governorates of the Gaza Strip, and whose sufferings continue. March goes and comes, another goes and comes, and masculine culture and the distinction between male and female reproduces itself. And women are still subjected to many forms of violence and persecution.
It has been shown by a recent study of the Information & Research Program of the WAC-Gaza that 23.8% of the total female respondents asserted denial of inheritance, while 76.2% indicated that they were not deprived of inheritance.
In the same study, a representative sample of 370 women; (42%) of the representative sample of 370 women stressed that the fear of losing relationship with family was the main reason that prevent them from seeking any support to get their right to inheritance. And 26% of them considered claiming inheritance is a disgrace; some women would literally say about a woman who claims inheritance "She went to raise an issue against her family in courts," which simply indicates a disgrace.
The study sample stressed on the effects of deprivation of inheritance; the results of the study showed that that feeling of oppression, injustice, and persecution weighted by (62.2%), enmity and hatred between siblings and family weighted by (49.5%), destabilization and disintegration of family relations weighted by (44.3%), and psychological and physical impact on women weighted by (31.6%). The results also showed the women’s fear levels when claiming their rights; high (44%) of the study sample showed “high” level of fear, while (14.3%) of the study sample showed “medium” level of fear.
Revealing the untold story is a pressing issue for all supporters of women's concerns. Perhaps the upcoming March, women will have been given some of their rights. Although the picture is bleak, hard working and real networking between women's and human rights organizations are able to create a state of social movement. Thus, silence of community must not be accepted by us, we women, whether we were harmed and deprived, or we were leaders and activists. What is lost right behind demands!
(*) Writer and media woman & Coordinator of Research and Information Program of the Women’s Affairs Center.