Women's inheritance rights in Malawi: the role of District Assemblies

Legal reforms are increasingly seen as essential in combating various constraints women face in relation to property and inheritance. These efforts are reinforced by commitments countries have made by adopting such treaties as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and by the incorporation into their constitutions of various Bills of Rights that recognise women's rights. It is expected that such commitments will reduce discriminatory practices and promote the upholding of women's rights. Based on findings of a study on women's property and inheritance rights in Malawi, this paper discusses the role of District Assemblies in the administration and adjudication of women's inheritance claims. It shows that the whole system is a fertile ground for opportunism and contributes significantly to undermining such rights. The paper illustrates that while human rights legislation plays an important role in the upholding of women's rights, the realisation of these entitlements requires that critical attention be paid to the institutions and administrative systems that are responsible for implementation. It is through these operations of the state that people experience law as practice.