Kenyan MPs slash women’s rights with Matrimonial Property Bill

| November 22, 2013
Millie Odhiambo of Mbita

Millie Odhiambo of Mbita

(GIN)—In a stunning set-back to the equal rights movement, Kenyan male members of Parliament (MPs) voted to undo some of women’s hard-fought victories that provided financial support for women in case of divorce.

In a late-night vote by parliament, revisions to the Matrimonial Property Bill by the male MPs were carried easily as only 34 women MPs were in the house. The women were beaten 87-28 in a roll call vote.

The revisions include a change giving spouses a share only of that property that’s in both the couple’s names. Property in the name of only one spouse is no longer matrimonial property.

This flies in the face of the fact that family property is traditionally and as a matter of routine registered just in the husband’s name.

Women MPs wanted a simple formula where the wealth is shared equally, irrespective of what each partner contributed.

James Lomenen, who led the debate, argued it would be unfair for the properties to be shared even after husbands had paid dowry.

“After paying so much in dowry, is it unfair to again ask the husbands to share properties you have made during the marriage,” Lomenen said.

While sharing the wealth is dependent on contribution, not so for sharing the debt. Under the proposed revisions, any debt incurred by the household will be split equally, so long as it was “for the benefit of the marriage”.

Asman Kamama representing Tiaty said in many situations women find men with properties made before the marriage. It would be against the rule of natural justice, he said, to share equally the wealth with a woman who came with nothing.

The revisions prompted heated rebuttals from the women legislators. Millie Odhiambo of Mbita observed that equal sharing is a constitutional principle and MPs had no business rewriting the law.

Zainab Chidzuga of Kwale County pointed out that women’s contributions to marriages are more than just the financial.

“A woman might be unemployed but remember she will clean her husband’s house, warm his bath water and many other things that may be considered a contribution that should enable her get an equal share of any matrimonial property,” argued Chidzuga.

Esther Murugi of Nyeri Town concurred.

“Whether the woman has contributed or not, she has fed the man, she has cleaned the man, she has taken care of the family. She is entitled to 50 percent,” said Murugi.

Female Parliamentarians are urging President Uhuru Kenyatta not to sign the bill into law.

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