Inheritance, access to resources and poverty in Serer families in Senegal
Evans, R., (2012) Inheritance, access to resources and poverty in Serer families in Senegal. Research Note. 1. Walker Institute for Climate System Research, University of Reading, Reading. pp23.
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This research explores the relationship between inheritance, access to resources and the intergenerational transmission of poverty among the Serer ethnic group in rural and urban environments in Senegal. In many Sub-Saharan African countries, customary law excludes women from owning and inheriting assets, such as land and property. Yet, assets controlled by women often result in increased investments in the next generation's health, nutrition and schooling and reduce the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Qualitative research with 60 participants in Senegal reveals the important role that land, housing and financial assets may play in building resilience to household shocks and interrupting the intergenerational transmission of poverty. However, the protection afforded by these assets was often dependent on other factors, including human, social and environmental capital. The death of a spouse or parent had major emotional and material impacts on many Serer families. The inheritance and control of assets and resources was strongly differentiated among family members along lines of gender, age and generation. Younger widows and their children were particularly vulnerable to chronic poverty. Although inheritance disputes were rare, the research suggests they are more likely between co-wives in polygamous unions and their children, particularly in urban areas. In addition to experiencing economic and health-related shocks, many interviewees were exposed to a range of climate-related risks and environmental pressures which increased their vulnerability. Family members coped with these shocks and risks by diversifying livelihoods, migrating to urban areas and other regions for work, participating in women's co-operatives and associations and developing supportive social networks with extended family and community members. Policies and practices that may help to alleviate poverty, safeguard women's and young people's inheritance and build resilience to financial, health-related and environmental shocks and risks include: - Social protection measures targeted towards poor widows and orphaned children, such as social and cash transfers to pay for basic needs including food, healthcare and children's schooling. - Micro-finance initiatives and credit and savings schemes, alongside training and capacity-building targeted to women and young people to develop income-generation activities and skills. - Free legal advice, support and advocacy for women and young people to pursue inheritance claims through the legal system. - Raising awareness about women's and children's legal rights and working with government and community and religious leaders to tackle discriminatory inheritance practices and contradictions caused by legal pluralism. - Increasing women's control of land and access to inputs, enhancing their business, organisational, and leadership skills and promoting civic participation in local, regional and national decision-making processes. - Improving access to basic services in rural areas, particularly healthcare, building the quality of education and promoting girls' access to education - Enhancing agricultural production and providing more employment opportunities, apprenticeships and vocational training for young people, particularly in rural areas.
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