"What's mine?" : rural women's experiences around property rights in the context of dissolved marriages in matrilineal societies : a case study of Muluwila Village in Kuntunmanje area, Zomba District, malawi.

Matinga, Bridget (2015-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2015.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Granting women access to and rights in property (including housing and land) is widely regarded in the literature on gender and development as contributing significantly both towards women’s empowerment and to social development in general. In this regard it is often assumed that women in matrilineal societies enjoy strong ownership rights to land because descent follows the female line and marriage is commonly uxorilocal. However, there is a body of literature that argues that women do not enjoy strong rights over land because decision-making powers over family land are commonly vested in males within the maternal lineage, typically the woman’s uncles and/or brothers. Furthermore, men entering marriage in matrilineal communities are said to be increasingly hesitant about making meaningful investments in their wives’ land, as matrilineal custom dictates, while patriarchal values are also influencing matrilineal norms and customs to the detriment of women’s claims. Problems around the strength and security of women’s land rights in matrilineal societies are most likely to come to the fore in the context of marriage dissolution, whether through the death of a spouse, divorce or abandonment. In Malawi matrilineal forms of social organisation are widely practised but the issue of married women’s rights to matrilineal land holdings in the contemporary period is under-researched. This dissertation makes a contribution to this field by exploring the extent to which women in matrilineal communities in Malawi experience threats to or actual loss of rights to land and housing, if their marriages dissolve, through an in-depth study of the experiences of women in Muluwila village, in Zomba District in southern Malawi. Drawing on feminist standpoint theory, I have employed a mixed methods research design that included a background household survey, in-depth interviews with a selection of women in the village, key informant interviews and documentary and historical analysis. My conceptual framework was shaped by Connell’s three-fold model for gender analysis, embracing power relations, production relations and ‘affective attachments’ (or ‘cathexis’), used in combination with Bourdieu’s notions of habitus and ‘field’ to explore women’s experiences and their attempts to negotiate the complex terrain of marriage, property and customary law in a rapidly changing social and economic environment, characterised by acute land shortage. The study found that women who opt to relocate from their maternal land when they marry and settle elsewhere with their husbands, either with his kin or in a neutral place, are the most vulnerable to loss of land rights if their marriages dissolve. They are not in a strong position to assert claims to the marital property but if they go back to their maternal home, they are likely to find that their family land has been shared among their siblings and other matrikin, leaving them landless. I suggest that gender policy in Malawi needs to address the challenges facing women at both the micro level of the household and the macro level of the legal system and make recommendations for further research.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die meeste literatuur oor gender en ontwikkeling beskou die verlening van toegang tot en regte op eiendom (onder meer behuising en grond) aan vroue as ’n beduidende bydraende faktor tot vrouebemagtiging in die besonder, en maatskaplike ontwikkeling in die algemeen. In dié verband word daar dikwels aangeneem dat vroue in matriliniêre samelewings oor gevestigde eiendomsregte op grond beskik omdat afkoms die vroulike linie volg en huwelike meestal matrilokaal is. Tog beweer sekere literatuur dat vroue in dié samelewings nié oor sulke gevestigde grondregte beskik nie omdat besluitnemingsmagte oor familiegrond oor die algemeen by mans binne die vrouelinie, tipies die vroue se ooms en/of broers, berus. Voorts huiwer mans wat in matriliniêre gemeenskappe introu na bewering al hoe meer om aan die matriliniêre gebruik gehoor te gee om aansienlik in hul vrouens se grond te belê. Patriargale waardes beïnvloed ook matriliniêre norme en gebruike tot nadeel van vroue se aanspraak op grondregte. Probleme rakende die sterkte en sekerheid van vroue se grondregte in matriliniêre samelewings kom heel waarskynlik veral na vore wanneer huwelike ontbind word, hetsy deur die dood van ’n huweliksmaat, egskeiding of verlating. Matriliniêre vorme van maatskaplike organisasie word algemeen in Malawi aangetref, maar die kwessie van getroude vroue se reg op matriliniêre grondbesit in die hedendaagse tyd is nog weinig nagevors. Hierdie verhandeling dra dus tot dié navorsingsgebied by deur ondersoek in te stel na die mate waarin die grond- en behuisingsregte van vroue in Malawiese matriliniêre gemeenskappe bedreig word of geheel en al verval indien hul huwelike eindig. Vir hierdie doel is ’n diepgaande studie van die ervarings van vroue in die dorp Muluwila in die Zomba-distrik in die suide van Malawi onderneem. Die navorser het uit feministiese standpuntteorie geput om ’n gemengde navorsingsontwerp te gebruik, wat onder meer uit ’n huishoudelike agtergrondopname, diepte-onderhoude met ’n gekose groep vroue in die dorp, onderhoude met sleutelinformante sowel as dokument- en geskiedkundige ontleding bestaan het. Die konseptuele studieraamwerk is beïnvloed deur Connell se drieledige model vir gender-ontleding – wat oor magsverhoudinge, produksieverhoudinge en ‘affektiewe gehegtheid’ (of ‘kateksis’) handel – sowel as Bourdieu se gedagte van habitus en ‘veld’ om ondersoek in te stel na vroue se ervarings sowel as hul pogings om hul weg te baan op die ingewikkelde terrein van huwelike, eiendom en gewoontereg in ’n snelveranderende maatskaplike en ekonomiese omgewing, wat boonop deur ’n erge tekort aan grond gekenmerk word. Die studie bevind dat vroue wat met hul troue kies om van hul moedergrond weg te trek en hulle elders saam met hul mans te vestig, hetsy by sy familie of op ’n neutrale plek, die kwesbaarste is vir verlies van grondregte indien hul huwelike ontbind word. Aan die een kant het hulle geen werklike aanspraak op die huwelikseiendom nie; aan die ander kant vind hulle meestal met hul terugkeer na hul moederhuis dat die familiegrond onder hul susters en ander vroulike verwante verdeel is – wat hulle in wese sonder grond laat. Die studie stel voor dat genderbeleid in Malawi erns maak met die uitdagings van vroue op die mikrovlak van die huishouding sowel as die makrovlak van die regstelsel, en doen ook aanbevelings oor verdere navorsing.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/97770
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