Challenges and Opportunities in Inheritance Rights in Rwanda

8 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2011

See all articles by Elizabeth Cooper

Elizabeth Cooper

University of Oxford - Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology

Date Written: February 1, 2011


Rwanda’s laws provide opportunities for gender equity by granting equal inheritance rights to sons and daughters and protection of a surviving spouse’s and children’s rights to property. However, customary systems continue to govern over family and land matters and often discriminate against women’s direct rights to property and inheritance.

The majority of adult women in Rwanda have no legal protection of their rights to property and inheritance because there is no legal recognition of consensual cohabiting and polygamous unions (unregistered marriages).

The registered consent of all individuals with rights in land prior to any land transfers, as required by Rwanda’s land laws, is an opportunity to protect the land rights of women and children. Recent land registration exercises have provided opportunities to document all individuals with interests in land, but these are challenged with how to determine the rights of women in cohabiting unions without registered marriages, resulting in cases of de facto policymaking.

With 80 percent of existing land plots measuring less than one hectare, and a law that states no division of land of less than a hectare, practical challenges exist in realising the distribution of land and immovable property among people with rights to inherit.

Local dispute resolution bodies provide access to conflict mediation, yet the outcomes of these bodies (e.g. regarding gender equity) are not systematically monitored or analysed.

Monitoring and enforcement of inheritance distributions need to be a focused effort, especially on behalf of people with limited social, economic and political influence, such as minor children whose inherited property is kept under appointed guardianship until they reach age of majority.

Suggested Citation

Cooper, Elizabeth, Challenges and Opportunities in Inheritance Rights in Rwanda (February 1, 2011). Chronic Poverty Research Centre Inheritance Series Policy Note, Available at SSRN: or

Elizabeth Cooper (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology ( email )

United Kingdom

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