Being a woman who helps women: Testimony of a lawyer in BENIN

Let’s look at the law in Benin, West Africa :

In Benin, under article 619: « Children or their descendants shall succeed to their fathers and mothers or other ascendants without distinction as to sex or age, even though they come from different marriages without reservation from the provisions of this Code in respect of incestuous children. They succeed by equal portions and per capita when they are all first degree and called from their leader, they succeed by strain, when they all come or in part by representation »

Despite this provision, in many communities and families, girls continue to be excluded from their rights to inheritance, particularly concerning immovable property that is shared between the children of the deceased, whether an adult or minor.

Women are most entitled to the movable property of their deceased father or to an insignificant portion of the immovable property.

According to article 630 « A surviving spouse against whom there is no judgment of separation of bodies entered into force as res judicata shall be called  to succession, even when there are parents, under the conditions laid down in the following articles ».

Here, too, the widow continues to be sidelined in the enjoyment of her late husband’s property. His parents sometimes hunt down the widow and force her out of the house, taking over the inheritance.

Until recently, they have appointed the liquidator of the assets to manage the assets on their own account with an incongruous share for the widow and her children. 

 Information collected by the Ambassador of the Regions of Benin, Isabelle.

« My name is Blandine SINTONDJI YAYA. I am a lawyer, a gender and development consultant, and a trainer of human rights trainers.

I am Beninese and live in Cotonou, Benin, married and a mother of two children. Currently I am the President of the Beninese section of the ECOWAS Peace and Security Network for Women (REPSFECO Benin). This is a network of 15 countries in West Africa that works for the participation of women in peace processes, the promotion of gender equality and the fight against violence towards women and girls.

I have consulted, created training seminars, and am working on raising awareness programs that speak to various subjects on domestic law, national laws, and regional and international instruments for the protection and promotion of the rights of women and girls.

REPSFECO has a center for female victims of violence. Here, we provide counseling and mediation with the parties with whom they are in conflict with.

I go over formal and informal information about the law by popularizing national laws and legal instruments for the protection and promotion of women’s rights. I sometimes lead victims to judicial structures and help them write petitions, complaints and follow up with them.

I enjoy helping people in distress. I joined the Association of Women Lawyers of Benin in 1994 and was Deputy Director of the legal aid center of Cotonou and Lokossa from 1996 to 2003. Then I went on to be Director of the center of Porto-Novo and finally the Director of Abomey-Calavi from 2003 to 2016.

I am passionate about this work because the women, most of whom are illiterate, need assistance to defend their rights. I have discovered that they are often victims of violence by their husbands and are ignorant of their rights, however, they have dared to break their silence and ask for help.

Women still face many difficulties with their inheritance rights. The obstacles that Beninese women face are major. There are conservatives who do not want things to change and sometimes go against our actions. This creates more difficulties in getting women to step forward as going through the legal proceedings is a difficult process. There are problems in attaining the resources to carry out raising awareness and training activities for those in the care of the women who are the victims of violence, as well as technical and financial issues.

Sometimes the surrounding men are hostile, and with that, there are always risks. However, I am here to advocate and help these women get back their voices, and for me there is no going back.

The reality is these Beninese women are seen as being inferior to men, but we are seeing positive results and things will improve more over the years with long-term services.

I discovered that despite the words of the law, women do not enjoy the same rights as men in many areas and have little presence in decision-making. In my country women need to learn that they have the same rights and the same abilities as men. They must have the courage to fight for these rights in order to enjoy them because they are provided for in the words of the law.

Testimony collected by the eLLes’ team, july 2019.
We collect stories from women all around the world, we want to know what you have to say, feministely

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