Fieldwork notes by Humaira Shafi in Pakistan

Humaira Shafi,  Ph.D. in Gender Studies and LawSchool of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland 

Women’s material empowerment through claiming their property rights always comes with a heavy price i.e. loss of family support (by family support- I mean women’s natal family).

It also comes with community sanction. There is a general trend of not recognizing the validity of women’s claim over her ancestral property by community.

The perception is that if she is a good sister she will leave her share in favour of her brother.

Community demands that she should show her love and affection via transferring her rights in property to her brothers.

Women in all classes have problem in claiming or demanding their property rights. 

Elite Class: Even with education and marriage stability, they still have to face the choice of whether they to claim their property rights or keep good ties with their natal family.

Middle class: educated, living in cities, working women but with more restrictions than any other class.

1: Some don’t marry and become prime supporter and provider to help parents and their young siblings

2: Some think of not demanding property rights as a way of compensating for the time, effort and money spend on their education and marriage by their family.

3: Some face extra pressure from husband’s sides to claim the inheritance but they put up resistance.

4: Some face violent conflict, threats to life from natal family if they demand their share in property.

5: To avoid community disapproval, they will prefer to forgo their claim in property.

6: Women’s role as mother is seen in, all classes, to discourage daughters to claim their share in family’s property.

7: There are women, who bargain away this right to gain decision making power in family. 

Lower class: poor, uneducated and living in villages- these women have no way of asserting their control over their own life. 

1: Most of these women do extra work – outside in fields.

2: They have less or no facilities to education and health institutes. 

3: Segregation of sexes is not very rigid in this class then in middle class. 

4: Although they have their names in Revenue record as legal heirs and successors but they are not encouraged to demand their rights in property. 

5: To limit their activities these women are given control of the house (private sphere) along with limited funding to run the internal affairs of the family which also entails control over daughter in laws, sons and daughters. They are also given the task of maintaining traditions and customs of their particular family/ community.

6: For some poverty works as an incentive (for resistance from general customary traditions) to claim their share in property, but only when they get no support from their family (both natal/ marital) and from their community.

Question: How do concerns about Material Empowerment and Familial Security influence Pakistani Muslim women’s decisions about their Property Rights?

Overall “Pakistani Muslim women will always have to face this crossroad between the material gain and the family support and security”.

Also, there was a clear consensus in all my subjects that men and women property can provide material benefits to both men and women. For women more so as they have limited access to other options like education, employment and justice system.

For women the two recourse available to claim their property (i) Family council or council of elders of their community and (ii) Courts.

Question: How are Pakistani Muslim men’s notions of Property ownership influenced by familial obligation and identification of land with familial security?

Pakistani Muslim Men & Property rights

1: General perception: Men are considered the ONLY heirs to ancestral property.

2: Men are greedy. (this statement came from both men and women).

3: For some men property is “Power” the more you have the more powerful you are in the society.

4: For some men it is the matter of their family prestige to maintain their ancestral family and make sure it increases in size and value and not decrease. So dividing the property to give share to sisters is not an option.

5: Men also suffer the loss of property due to usurpation of their land and property by male relatives. This usually happens when a father/ mother or both dies early leaving young children and unmonitored property behind. 

6: There is greater community acceptance for men as long as they fulfill their role of bread winner and provider.

7: Men also feel the pressure of the family obligations like providing for the family, providing for the food, health and education of children, marrying daughters into good families, providing their dowry etc……

8: There are less jobs for men and they have to rely on their ancestral property to meet all the family expenses. Also most men are affiliated with agricultural profession, and division of property can be seriously detrimental to their livelihood. 

9: Some give share of the produce of land to their sisters and think they have done their duty. Some emotionally instigate their sisters to transfer their share in their mother and father’s property to their brothers. 

Some do pay their sisters but not what they are actually entitle to. Some men, when forced (by sisters’ husband or sons or by sisters’ themselves) give their sisters’ share. But their sisters’ property have less value than their own. 

10: Some think that after marriage it is the job of women’s husband to provide for them and if they cannot then they are not man enough.

11: Here mothers and wives play an important role in siding with their sons and husbands and create a perception that “any woman who claims a share from her brother is a greedy woman”.

12: All the men who were interviewed claimed that they will distribute the property making sure that the needs of their wives, sisters and daughters are met and they don’t have to go to court to claim their rights. 

13: To gain, claim or possess property men can use force (violence), courts or local community dispute resolution channels.

Common issues between men and women

1: Accessing legal institutions is expensive and time consuming for both men and women.

2: Greed can be a factor for both men and women in claiming or usurping property rights.

3: Cultural obligations effects both men and women. 

4: Sibling bonding and love and affection plays important part in both men and women’s life. 

Question: Which factors influence Pakistani Muslim women to renounce their property rights?

Social constraints for Pakistani Muslim woman

Pardah: not the scarf or burqa but confining women’s involvement to domestic affairs.

False sense of Honour: Tying family honour with women’s virtue- this means guarding their every move, not giving them right to choose their own life partner and compel them to live a life in which they have no say of their own.

Respect: Do not question your elders’ decisions. Obey your father/ brothers, don’t talk back, and don’t argue. 

These not so harmful practices always come with rewards ( education, allowing of employment, dowry, respect after marriage, support after marriage) but curb the need to argue or question the decision of the family elders—these practices in generations after generations have become the part of women’s moral and social DNA.

Cultural practices that effects women and their choices

Marriages within the same family or community

Providing big dowries for daughters

Lavish and expensive weddings where most of the expenses coming out of girl’s parents

Practices like “Sawara/ Vani, marriage with Quran and honour killings”

Question: How does the pluralized nature of Pakistani Property Laws influence Pakistani Muslim women and men’s understanding of their rights to inherit or claim property through the various mechanisms established in Islamic law?

Law is very supportive of Pakistani Muslim women.

BUT!!!!! Judicial process is very lengthy.

Women have no confidence on Pakistani Judicial system.

Women prefer the mechanism of community disputes resolution forums.

Even men prefer to resolve their issues through community dispute resolution fora but sometime use legal channels, too to annoy the other party or to make the other party suffer the financial loss by paying litigation fees.

It is consider shameful for men if their women go in courts or revenue department for property issues.

Nearly all men and women preferred the community based resolution forums to resolve their property matters.

Factors that shape the behaviour of

Pakistani men

Situation:  denying of property right of sisters/ mothers/ wives due to Greed or need for more Power in society and family.

Their up bringing: how they are raised, what privileges they received and at what cost.

The expectations:  The burden of expectation from family and from community

How society and community shaped their masculinities and the roles they have to perform as brothers, fathers and sons.

Pakistani women


Their up bringing: The preference of brothers over them, Limited choice in deciding matters related to – education, mobility, employment, marriage, overall in security on their abilities.

The expectations: the expectation to honour and respect the family (elders) decisions, follow the traditions, adheres to community norms and in return gets benefits.

The training of women in Pakistan starts in the cradle of their mothers and they learn to conform to the ideals of family and society at a very young age.

Situations like extreme poverty, widow hood, responsibility of a family, financial constraints and need to protect and safe guard the children’s well being are the motivators in most of the cases where women demand, claim or fight for their rights of property.

In some cases the Bond of Love and affection between brothers and sisters, daughters and fathers do result in peaceful and mutually acceptable transfer of property rights. There are brothers who decided that they will give commercial land to their sisters so that they can sell it for good price.There are fathers who gave property as gift to their daughters in their lifetime so that they will be compensated for – when they get their share of inheritance.There are sisters who know how difficult the financial situation is for their brothers and who have made promise to themselves that they will not demand their share in the family house as it is the only roof over their brothers’ head.A husband who transferred a house to his wife so that she and his children will be well protected.A husband who is all set to leave a ‘Will’ that as long as his wife lives his sons should not divide his property and all benefits of his property should go to his wife. 
Male Strategies against women’s property There are cases where husband didn’t support their wives’ claim of property because they didn’t want to start the same practices among their sisters but they didn’t deter their wives from going against their family.Brothers asking brother not to transfer property to his wife as this practice will encourage their wives to demand their share of property.
Setting a good example is the best way to teach your children (It was observed in both men and women)Those who have witnessed fair share of distribution of property in their family shared the same views. 
 The Price of Material empowerment for Pakistani womenMost women who got their property on demand or through court got economic stability but didn’t consider it empowering – due to the loss of family support?
There are cases where both men and women were defrauded in buying a property 

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