Kosovo Property Rights Program (PRP) Assessment: Gender, Property and Economic Opportunity in Kosovo

The overall goal of the USAID/Kosovo Property Rights Program (PRP) is to improve the property rights regime in Kosovo, strengthen the rule of law, and increase economic growth and investment.  The Property Rights Program has four objectives: 1) Better Coordination; 2) Improved Court Procedures; 3) Enhance Women’s Rights to Use Property, and 4) Improved Communication and Understanding of Property Rights.  While the primary focus of this report is on Objective 3, the findings and recommendations cut across all of the objectives.

The law related to both gender and property in Kosovo is modern and egalitarian.  The problems that exist in law with regard to women’s property rights are due to 1) inconsistencies in existing laws and 2) problems in practice, specifically the differential application of the law and bureaucratic strategies that allow the exclusion of women.  The most significant inconsistencies in law pertaining to property rights are the different claims on resources that spouses have in legally registered marriages and ‘factual’ marriages and the lack of clarity with regard to the proper legal venue for uncontested cases of inheritance.  There is additional confusion as to whether uncontested inheritance cases can be processed by both the courts and notaries.

Many people in Kosovo do not go to the trouble of formalizing rights to immovable property.  As a result, there is an overall problem in terms of a lack of engagement with legal processes regarding property ownership and transfer.  When legal processes are used, the dominant issues in terms of the application of law pertaining to the inheritance law and the usage of the clause on renunciation.  Women frequently renounce their inherited property in favor of brothers and uncles for cultural reasons and in adherence to Albanian customary law.  While no formal statistics on renunciation exist, and many women willingly renounce their inheritance rights, anecdotes abound regarding women who are excluded from inheritance as a result of coercion and subterfuge.  An additional problematic aspect of the inheritance law in this social context is the ability of heirs to renounce the property rights of minor children without any external oversight as to whether the best interests of the child are considered.

These legal problems are exacerbated by bureaucratic difficulties at the municipality level in ascertaining the legal heirs of a deceased person.  There are many opportunities in the inheritance process for the exclusion of legal heirs without their knowledge or consent.  This causes particular problems for women who by all accounts are most likely to be excluded.  Moreover, women’s engagement in the economy of Kosovo is extremely low in comparison to neighboring states which is somewhat surprising given educational levels that are similar to those of men.  Women face higher levels of unemployment and given the low levels of formalized capital that they can access their self-employment opportunities are limited.

Recommendations suggested below are a result of this initial assessment of property and gender in Kosovo.  They are intended to inform program design and identify areas where there is a significant absence of information.  Some of the recommendations intentionally cut across all PRP objectives or relate to work being done by other organizations and donors.  Additionally, a few of the recommendations specifically relate to legal and policy changes that would need to be made by the Assembly of Kosovo or by the appropriate government agency.  Recommendations are divided into four different categories:  law and court processes; training and capacity building in municipal administration; economic engagement for women; and, knowledge creation.

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