Why are women in Georgia often left out of inheritance
As per Georgian law, the inheritance must be divided equally among children, regardless of their gender, but in reality, sons often become the sole heirs and Georgian women are left out of their parents’ wills. Many women do not even make their claims, being unaware of their rights or out of fear of ruining family relationships.
This practice often puts women in a disadvantageous position compared to men as they are more vulnerable financially and forced to depend on their husbands. In turn, it often aggravates the problem of domestic violence as it becomes easier for a husband or his family to oppress a woman who has no property of her own.
“I was not lucky, I did not meet a husband who could support the family. He drank and swore all the time, but we lasted 12 years. Several years ago, I took my three children and returned to my parents’ house. My brother was not happy with this. The father also said that he would not like to support children with a strange surname. But we have a strong family, a big house, a farm, an orchard, and vineyards”.
Maka, 39, lives in one of the cities of Imereti (a region in western Georgia). The father warned Maka, who returned home after the divorce, not to claim a share in her home:
“But they set up this house with money sent by my mother from Turkey [Maka’s mother is working in Turkey]. She helped my brother and his wife start a business”, Maka said.
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Maka had to follow in her mother’s footsteps: not being able to find a job back home, she also went to Turkey. She was forced to leave her children in her husband’s family.
Once, when she was already working in Turkey, her brother called from the notary office. He said that he took out a bank loan and had to write it out from home. The Turkish woman for whom Maka had worked at the time warned her that signing such a document meant giving up her parental home. If Maka agrees to it, she said, the door may not be opened, as they would have every right not to let her in.
Maka refused to sign it.
“Soon my brother and father called. I will never forget how my father’s eyes burned, how he waved his arms. He said that I was dead to him. I slid into a chair and thought that he probably never considered me his child”.
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According to a sociological study conducted in Georgia by the United Nations Population Fund, every third respondent believes that all property or at least most of the parental property should be transferred to their son.
The opinions of men and women on this issue are almost the same.
According to the tradition which has been adhered to in Georgia for centuries, after marriage, parents presented their daughter with a dowry – objects, and money, which automatically deprived her of the right to inherit family property. The son would then become the sole heir.
A similar practice is still observed in some families, especially in the provinces.
Anything could become a dowry: clothes, household items, jewelry, land, money. Both peasants and nobles diligently collected the dowry so that their daughters could confidently enter a new family.
It was the dowry that was supposed to give a woman economic stability and help her take a worthy place in her husband’s family.
“Today many people laugh at this tradition, but in fact, the role of the dowry is immeasurably great. The dowry was not regulated by law, but it was imperative to observe this rule”, says sociologist Maya Araviashvili.
The tradition of giving a dowry began to collapse in Soviet Georgia. Items lost their former value due to mass production but then became invaluable again during a period of scarcity. For years, many families hunted for linen, dishes, clothes in order to successfully marry off their daughters.
The dowry finally lost its relevance after Georgia gained independence, and its function to empower women has also disappeared.
In 1997, Georgia adopted a law on the equal distribution of parents’ inheritance regardless of the order and gender of their children.
According to this law, even if a parent bequeaths all of their property to only one of the children, the other children have the right to demand a share in the court.
Mandatory share – that’s how it is called and means half of the share that the heir would receive in the absence of a will.
“For more than two decades, this law has not taken root in any way. Sons are still considered the sole owners of the inheritance. Today my sister has neither a dowry nor an inheritance”, said Maya Araviashvili.
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After the wedding, the father gave Nana 10,000 rubles so that she could buy things for her new home, although she did not have a home at all.
“My husband didn’t have an apartment either. My brother’s family lived in my parents’ house. My father told me: ‘This is such a big house, let’s divide it up, you will live in one part, and your brother in the other’. But how could I allow this? I didn’t want to embarrass my brother”, says 59-year-old Nana.
After the death of their parents, the brother inherited both his parents’ house in Tbilisi and a country house in the village. This alignment did not raise any questions from anyone, the brother and sister never discussed the distribution of the inheritance.
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“I know it was unfair, but I can’t say anything to my brother. We are very close. If I need something, he will do everything for me”, says Nana.
It is rare for a woman to break a tacit agreement.
Often the reason for this is a lack of knowledge of their own rights, but in most cases, women are afraid of ruining relationships with their loved ones. In addition, they are afraid of public condemnation, which is inevitable if a woman dares to challenge the division of property.
“Sometimes someone will oppose, but they are immediately silenced. In other cases, women know that sharing property in fairness is possible only at the cost of losing loved ones in their lives”, says Maiko Chitaya, a gender researcher.
Maka was advised to hire a lawyer in Turkey. She felt relieved when she realized that he would now communicate with the family, and not herself.
“Aunt, why do you want to take my house away from me? My nephew asked me”, Maka recalls. “Other relatives also condemned me. I had a childhood full of hardships – precisely because all the resources of my parents went into this house. It means a lot to me, how can they deprive me of my right to it?”, says Maka.
Maka managed to retain the right to the inheritance of her parents. She returned to Georgia and is now caring for her aging father, her brother also admitted to his mistakes.
She managed to open her own small business – she first borrowed five and then ten thousand lari [about $ 3.2 thousand] from the bank and opened a fast-food restaurant. If not for the parental home, no bank would have given her a loan.
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Lack of funds is another obstacle to litigation. Not many have the money to pay for a lawyer.
In addition, 3% of the contested property must be paid as royalties. The court processes are dragging on, no one knows when the heir will receive a share of the property.
Bella Patashuri, 44, would not have been able to legally fight for a place in her childhood home without the help of the non-governmental organization Sapari.
They provided Bella with a lawyer free of charge.
Bella lives with her mother and younger brother in one of the villages of the Mtskheta region. She also has an older brother.
“Once my mother advised me to choose which of the brothers I would live with. I was indignant – why should I choose who to go to as a hanger? Something must belong to me too so that I had my own money, I began to cultivate the plot in front of the house and sell the seeds online. I worked hard to make the land fertile, to plant 100-150 species of plants. And then my mother decided to transfer the entire house and the land plot to my younger brother. I challenged this in court, and the court supported me”.
Researchers believe that parents are often responsible for such injustice.
“Many respondents in conversation with us admitted that parents gave preference to their brothers. However, when we asked how they themselves would distribute the property, they replied that they themselves would give everything to their son. This decision was explained by tradition”, says Maya Araviashvili.
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#Baby is the name of the campaign launched by Sapari in collaboration with the Naambobi web platform a few months ago.
On their Facebook page, women share stories of inheritance distribution – fair and not. They were given the opportunity to share resentment and anger. Most tell their story anonymously.
“A lot of women come to Sapari because they are fleeing from their rapist husband. The shelter only can only host women for six months. After this period, many women are asked why they cannot return to the parental home. Usually, they say that their brothers and their families already live there. This is how this campaign was born – we wanted to show the women that the parental home belongs to them in the same way as their brothers”, says Shorena Gabunia, the coordinator of the #Baby Egg Campaign. “It turned out that this problem has a huge scale, we receive hundreds of letters. The authors want to speak, but not publicly. Everyone prefers to remain anonymous and asks me to remove their names and places of residence”.
The scale of the problem can only be imagined from the stories of women.
There are no statistics in Georgia that would show exactly what women and men inherit. The number of property disputes between brothers and sisters is also unknown.
All that can be concluded from a 2018 survey is that men tend to own more property than women. But how much of the woman’s property was inherited and acquired later is unknown.
“Statistics could show the real scale of the problem”, says Maya Araviashvili.
Another problem is the neutrality of inheritance law, says lawyer Tamar Gurchiani. The law does not differentiate between the gender of the heirs. Gurchiani says the law could be more efficient by becoming more gender-sensitive.
“Neutrality is good when women and men are equal. But when we see that a woman suffers a lot more when inheriting, then the law should be gender-sensitive, not neutral. The court must have mechanisms to balance this inequality”, she said.
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Ani Gogudze has two children – a son and a daughter. Ani, a 25-year-old resident of Tbilisi, says that she and her husband do not endow their son with any advantages, including property.
“I don’t think that one should get more than the other, the property should be divided equally. If parents cannot provide both children with apartments, then they must make sure that one apartment is divided in half. I believe that parents should not put siblings in a situation where they have to argue and sue each other”.
32-year-old Nika Bitsadze, the father of two daughters and one son, says he will not leave his daughters without an inheritance but he will still leave the house to his son.
“Perhaps, by the time they grow up, it will still change, but now I see the distribution of property as such”.
Experts believe that the unfair distribution of property is one of the forms of indirect violence against women. And women are gradually becoming aware of this.
According to a study that took place within the framework of the UN program in 2013, only 44% of respondents believed that property should be distributed equally between brothers and sisters. In 2019, this figure rose to 62%.
“This state of affairs is not based on any argument, but only feeds patriarchal attitudes. It is very painful for a woman to realize this injustice, but from a feminist standpoint, this female grievance is very valuable as when it transforms into anger and the struggle begins”, says Maiko Chitaya.