December 7th, 2006 11:19 EST
Women's Lack of Property Rights Linked to Abuse, Experts Say
Washington -- Women`s lack of property rights in many developing countries is linked to domestic violence against women, says a group of women`s rights experts.
Women barred by law or culture from owning a house or land also have higher HIV infection rates as a result of sexual abuse by partners who view women as powerless, they said.
"Property rights are an effective measurement of women`s status in society because they impact women`s economic, political and human rights " [and] shape the allocation of resources and decision-making authority," said Andrea Bottner, head of the State Department`s Office of International Women`s Issues.
"The right to own property gives women financial independence that, in turn, strengthens their ability to bargain with husbands or other members of the household," Bottner said.
The International Women`s Issues office works to coordinate U.S. efforts to advance women`s causes around the world and ensure that women`s rights are integrated into all foreign aid programs. It sponsored a December 5 meeting on women`s property and inheritance rights in Asia and Africa and their links to violence against women and HIV/AIDS.
The office emphasizes the need for women to have more access to education, health care and economic opportunities.
"This is important in the fight against HIV/AIDS when women need to assert greater control over access to their bodies. Women who have their own sources of income are more empowered to leave a violent environment," Bottner said.
Just as in richer countries, women in developing countries stay in abusive relationships because they fear losing access to the food and shelter they need to survive, said Nata Duvvury of the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), based in Washington.
Violence and AIDS are the two "pandemics facing women today," Duvvury, director of the ICRW`s Gender, Violence and Rights Program, said.
Women are more fearful than men of being tested for HIV, of seeking treatment and of being ejected from a home they have no rights to own, she said.
The problem of women`s lack of economic resources is further complicated by the fact that women are often the primary caregivers for other family members who have AIDS and for children whose parents have died from the disease, according to an ICRW publication on women`s property and inheritance rights.
Yet, "where women`s property rights are upheld, women acting as heads and/or primary caregivers of HIV/AIDS-affected households are better able to manage the impact of AIDS," ICRW said.
Research has shown that people who own land generate "much higher nonfarm earnings from self-employment" and can use the property as collateral for investment in small businesses, according to the ICRW.
In addition to advocating for laws to uphold women`s property rights, groups are also involved in efforts to strengthen the enforcement of property rights, since many local leaders and court officials continue to ignore national laws, said Janet Walsh of Human Rights Watch.
A State Department fact sheet on U.S. Support for Women Worldwide is available on the department`s Web site.
For additional information, see the State Department`s Office of International Women`s Issues Web site.
More information on ICRW, which is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is available on the organization`s Web site.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
By Kathryn McConnell
USINFO Staff Writer