Saturday, 13 October 2012

Victorian feminism comes to Botswana

This week the High Court in Botswana ruled that women can inherit property. The country has a constitution that guarantees equality to men and women, but until now a woman could not inherit her family home.

This is fantastic news for Botswana, and marks a step further in the road to real equality. It also waves a little flag reminding us of something that we probably knew all along, but hadn't thought about. Until now women in Botswana couldn't inherit their family home, and in Zimbabwe, Sudan and Zambia - and I'm sure many more countries, they still can't. Bad enough to lose your parents, husband, brother - but to be left destitute as well?

In Britain we have to go back to the Victorians, more than 130 years ago to find a similar state of affairs. We have the landmark Married Women's Property Act of 1870, which for the first time allowed women to be the legal owners of the money they earned and to inherit property. Then, in 1922 husbands and wives could finally inherit equally. It took half a century to move from between these two stages. I only hope it's quicker for women in Botswana. 

Some feminists argue that there is still some way to go to achieve full equality in western countries, and maybe there is. A gender pay gap, and the costs of childcare are still issues that need our attention, and I don't think we should neglect them - they are important. But compared with the women in Botswana, I am pretty lucky. I grew up equal to my brothers, with exactly the same rights and opportunities. This is something that women in Botswana and Zimbabwe, and other countries, in Africa and elsewhere, wouldn't dare to dream. As a world, we still have a long way to go. 

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