African Women Lawyers pushe for passage of spousal bill

From Issah Alhassan, Kumasi

Mrs. Juliana Azumah-Mensah, Minister for Women and Chldren’s Affairs (left), Betty Mould-Iddrisu, Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Founder of AWLA (right)

THE AFRICAN Women Lawyers Association (AWLA) has reiterated the call for the immediate passage of the Property Rights of Spouses and Intestate Succession bills, which are currently before Parliament, in order to remove all social and legal bottlenecks associated with estate distribution in the country.

The AWLA believes the bill, when approved, would adequately offer a form of relief to vulnerable groups in society, like women and children, who are often at the losing end of estate distribution.

The ratification of the bill, according to the association, would not only bring social stability and equality, but would also help remove anomalies in the country’s present laws, relating to intestate succession, and provide a uniform intestate succession law that would be applied throughout Ghana, irrespective of inheritance system of the intestate, and the type of marriage contracted.

The bill, which has only seen its first reading in the august house, is purposely enacted to regulate rights of spouses in accordance with article 22 of the Constitution of Ghana.

Article 22 of the 1992 Constitution requires spouses to have equal access to property jointly acquired during marriage, and for such property to be equitably distributed between the spouses upon dissolution of the marriage.

The new bills therefore, seek to establish rules and workable standards for the courts and spouses, for the realisation of the provision of the Constitution on spousal property rights.

They would adequately cater for all the discrepancies and limitations associated with the 1985 PNDC Law 111 that deals with the intestate succession in the country.

But, after it had been drafted by the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General’s Department, the bills are yet to secure the approval of Ghana’s Parliament, compelling women advocacy groups to launch crusades aimed at getting the august house to, as a matter of urgency, ratify the bill to ensure its immediate implementation.

To this end, AWLA, in collaboration with its partners LAWA (Ghana) Alumnae Incorporated, with support from GTZ, Germany , have over the years organised regional programmes to sensitise stakeholders, including the media, on the nature of the two bills, and the need to fight for its immediate passage.

Addressing a day’s advocacy workshop with the media in Kumasi to highlight issues concerning the bills, the Programme Coordinator at AWLA, Ms. Edna Kuma, said the delay in the passage of the bill should be a source of concern to all Ghanaians.

According to her, the property rights of spouses in Ghana has been problematic for a very long time, stressing that the country’s plural legal system, and the laws on marriage which are regulated by customary, Islamic and statute, put females in general at the losing end when it comes to sharing of properties.

She noted that the reason given by parliament for its inability to critique the bills was that it was occupied by equally important assignments.

Ms. Edna therefore, emphasised the need for all stakeholders, particularly, the media, to join the crusade in seeking the immediate passage of the bills.

She said amongst some of the features covered that the bills would be seeking answers to, would include marital property, joint property and how it is divided at divorce, separate property, equal access, the distribution of joint and matrimonial property in a polygamous marriage, and cohabitation.

She further called on religious bodies, traditional authorities, and civil society organisations to add their voices to the calls for the ratification of the bills.

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