Druze women are often limited in their rights to any real estate bequeathed to them through wills, a tendency that appears to be based on cultural customs and norms passed down from previous generations, rather than religious teachings.
The Druze sect considers bequests to be a duty imposed on every member. Article 307 of Personal Status Law No. 59 of 1953 grants Druze the right to determine some personal status matters, including bequests. For instance, those wishing to bequeath their assets may distribute them as they see fit.
A Druze sheikh told The Syria Report that women and men are considered equal by the sect, which aims to protect justice for both. For example, a woman receives half of her husband’s property should he divorce her at his own will and without any legitimate justification. In such cases, the man must split everything he owns with his former wife, “even the clothes on his back,” says the sheikh.
In practice, however, this principle is not always followed through. Much of the Druze community includes low-income agricultural workers in parts of Syria already suffering from low and fragmented property ownership. The Suweida governorate, where Syria’s Druze are concentrated, has rugged, mountainous terrain, and its agriculture is rain-fed despite low rainfall.
As a result, families tend to keep a hold of their agricultural properties by bequeathing them only to their male heirs. Socially, bequests to women are seen as ceding properties to other families (i.e. their husbands’ families). Because they are not allocated land in bequests, Druze women, especially in rural areas, have fewer ownership rights.
In the Druze sect, there are three forms of bequest concerning women’s rights:
- The “fully granted” bequest means that a woman has been granted all the rights she is owed on an equal level as the male heirs.
- The “Aldirar” bequest indicates that only male heirs were included in the bequest.
- The “restricted” bequest grants a woman a specific piece of property, but her rights to dispose of it are restricted. For example, she is given only the right of usufruct for a piece of real estate.
According to Druze customs, the “muqatiah room” is a room within a house or a small standalone apartment specified in the bequest for the residential use and benefit of an unmarried woman, a widow, or a divorcee. Women are often given the right of usufruct for such rooms in bequests made by their fathers or brothers. In some cases, women are given ownership of these rooms. However, the muqatiah room in the Druze sect is usually criticised as a form of exile or a “waiting room for death.”