Land and inheritance rights are a key factor in empowering rural women. In Mexico, the situation is unfair and unjust. Border Partners convened a focus group in Palomas this week to learn more about it. Input from this meeting went to a group in New York that’s preparing for the 2018 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The meeting, held March 11-23, will focus on challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality. The commission will emphasize the empowerment of rural women and girls.
One woman in the group immediately shared her own personal situation. She’s waited nine years for an inheritance. But she still hasn’t received title to the land she should inherit. She’s unable to meet all the legal requirements. The process is unnecessarily slow. Key figures (officials) change, thereby delaying, disrupting or derailing the process.
Contextual Problems Affect Inheritance Law
Our group didn’t really complain about the law itself. Instead, it expressed more concern with how the law was so arbitrarily applied. This manifested itself in two particular ways they specified:
The first difficulty is that women are treated differently than men by the courts. Mexican culture is predominantly a male-dominant, machismo culture. Men receive preferential treatment. Officials don’t apply the law equally across genders.
A second ongoing problem is that corruption is endemic. Specifically, the focus group agreed that often people seeking court action must unofficially pay something to officials to get action, even though they have the correct legal papers. This sort of bribe has a name in Spanish: a mordida, or “bite,” referring metaphorically to the wound of an animal bite.
Legal paperwork is processed in larger cities that are distant from from rural women. This sets up more handicaps. Rural women often can’t travel to those larger, distant cities. It’s expensive. This is a hurdle too high for many to surmount.
Inheritance laws also hurt women who’re not legally married to their partner who dies. Many Mexican couples are common law couples. Marriage is expensive. So couples don’t undertake it. Absence of laws recognizing the legitimacy of the common law commitment hurts many women.
Rural women often don’t have resources to hire an attorney to represent them. Therefore, their case becomes very difficult to win in court. Legal representation is expensive. And, it isn’t provided for those who can’t afford it.
The situation of indigenous women is no better than non indigenous. In some instances, groups may advocate for the rights of indigenous. In the case of such advocacy, an indigenous woman may have an advantage. If there’s no such advocacy present, an indigenous woman faces the same situation that all women face.