What are the links between HIV/AIDS and women's property rights in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA)? This paper asks if women's lack of rights increases household poverty and their own vulnerability to infection, and if securing these rights can reduce the impacts of the epidemic on poverty. The paper notes that gender inequality in land ownership is common in SSA, due to male preference in inheritance, male bias in state programmes of land distribution, and gender inequality in the land market. It argues that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is increasing these inequalities: for example many HIV/AIDS widows have lost their property in disputes with members of their deceased spouse's extended family. Evidence shows that, in cases where women's property and inheritance rights are upheld, women acting as heads and/or primary caregivers of HIV/AIDS- affected households are better able to avoid the negative economic and social consequences of HIV/AIDS, largely because property provides some security and empowerment. The paper calls for the implementation of laws that protect women's land and property rights, whether statutory or customary; improved access to legal mechanisms when women's rights to property are undermined; and public education campaigns that challenge male-biased social norms around property and inheritance.
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BRIDGE is a research and information programme located within IDS Knowledge Services. We are part of a global movement whose vision is a world where gender equality, dignity and social justice prevail, where poverty is eliminated and where human rights – including women’s rights - are realised.