Page 36

20

Economic Opportunities for Women in the East Asia and Pacific Region

have explicit formal legal provisions guaranteeing equal property and land rights for women. Indonesia’s statutory legal framework exemplifies overt discrimination with respect to transfer rights, resulting in de jure inequality. Article 108 of the Indonesian Civil Code prevents women from entering into contracts on their own behalf, whether to sell or to buy property. This means that men can decide whether their wives have access to collateral (IFC 2006c) and whether they can raise or invest capital through the buying or selling of land. Research suggests that access to land can be precarious for women in Indonesia, with loss of control and ownership rights (in addition to lack of transfer rights) upon divorce, widowhood, male migration, or desertion by husbands (Land Tenure Center 2003). Papua New Guinea’s customary laws, which determine ownership of about 90 percent of land, similarly restrict women’s access to land. Matrilineal principles govern land in some areas, but even there, brothers and male relatives are the real decision makers. Only two of the country’s supposedly matrilineal societies grant women substantive equal rights in land mediation and authority to trade in their own capacity (ADB 2006c). Elsewhere in the region, women’s legal rights to land are restricted to use rights, with women unable to own or, therefore, to transfer or control land. This is the situation, for example, in Timor-Leste (ADB 2005). In Tonga, the law of succession in the Constitution of Tonga discriminates against daughters by ensuring that only the eldest son may inherit estates and titles; only if there are no living sons can daughters inherit (Pacific Islands Legal Information Institute). The threat to this legal inequality that the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) poses has been cited as one of the main reasons that Tonga remains one of the few countries in the world yet to have signed CEDAW (New Zealand Pacific Business Council 2009). Other countries have explicitly enshrined gender equality in land-rights law, which ensures at least de jure equality—for example, in Cambodia; China; Hong Kong, China; the Philippines, and Singapore (World Bank n.d.). As a practical matter, however, a formally equal legal framework does not always ensure equal property rights for men and women for two main reasons: (1) discriminatory customs play a strong role in some localities, and (2) inadequate implementation of gender-equal or gender-neutral land laws perpetuates, in practice, gender-related differences in property rights. Traditional norms complicate the extent to which equal legal provisions bring equal property access for women. In some cases, traditional customs can distort or supersede national laws, regulations, or constitutional

Economic Opportunities for Women in the East Asia and Pacific Region  
Economic Opportunities for Women in the East Asia and Pacific Region  

The East Asia and Pacific region has made great progress, relative to other regions, with regard to both economic development and, specifica...