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Feature 30 Sep 16

Kosovo Women Still Fear to Claim Their Inheritances

Kosovo’s legal framework may give women equal rights to inherit property but too many women in the country are still reluctant to use it.

Die Morina
BIRN Kosovo report on women's property rights

She has turned 70 now, but for years has lived either with friends or – when she can afford to – in a rented apartments.

The woman from Shtimje, who declined to be named, is fighting for her right to live in the home where she grew up.

After her parents died, as an unmarried woman, her brother kicked her out in 2000.

After a trial that lasted 15 years, the court finally ruled in her favour last year.

In spite of the court ruling, her brother has still not let her back in the house that they are supposed to share.

She has asked Kosovo’s Ombudsperson for help, hoping that after all these years, she can return to where she feels she belongs.

She did have one other option, which was to call the police and get them to assist her into the house - but felt that option was too extreme.

She is, in fact, the one of the few women in Kosovo to go to court to seek her share of her inheritance at all.

Experts say the traditional patriarchal mentality is to blame for the fact that many women in Kosovo simply abandon their rights to inherit property and assets that they are fully entitled to.

Although the law in Kosovo upholds women’s equal inheritance rights to men, NGOs say raising women’s awareness about such rights remains a challenge.

In Kosovo, inheritance is acquired by law or by wills. If there is no will or testament, the heirs by law - among others - are the children of the deceased.

Law on inheritance in Kosovo gives women and men equal rights to inherit from their predecessors.

But it also lays down that an heir can voluntarily withdraw from their share of the inheritance - and that such declarations on withdrawal from inheritance cannot be revoked.

In most cases, even when women have full rights to inherit, they follow the “moral” code and do not take up their share, so as not to lose the respect of their families.

Research conducted in 20 municipal courts by the Norma Lawyers Association, which is a member of the Kosovo Women’s Network, shows that the inheritance ratio in Kosovo is 1:3 to the disadvantage of women.

BIRN research carried out on July 2016 also found that only 16 per cent of properties in Kosovo are registered in women’s names.

Valbona Salihu, executive director of Norma, stated that while the laws in Kosovo are among the best in the field, there is no way to force women and men to follow them.

Sociologist Linda Gusia told BIRN that better education would be one step towards achieving true social equality and emancipation for women.

“This phenomenon is a consequence of patriarchal order in our society, by which the family heirs are the men and boys,” Gusia said.

Salihu said persistent inequality between men and women in Kosovo reflects women’s low educational level and insufficient awareness of their legal rights. 

Another case of a woman denied her right to property concerned Shukrie Berisha.

She earlier told BIRN that her court case, concerning her right to remain in her deceased husband’s house, where she had lived for 30 years, dragged on for 11 years.

Berisha took her husband’s brother to court after he claimed she had no right to continue using the property, as she had no children.

After 11 years, the Pristina Basic Court in April this year awarded Shukrie Berisha ownership rights. Finally, she got back part of the house and yard.

Such trials on inheritance cases often last for years because the accused parties make full use of their right to submit complaints, thereby delaying the final ruling.

Salihu says NGOs must “continue working on raising women’s awareness about their guaranteed rights.

“The very first thing that institutions should also do is to scrap the legal provision by which a person can withdraw from their inheritance,” she concluded.

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