At least since the promulgation of the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1935, Muslim women in what is now Pakistan have a legally recognized share in property of their immediate family members, albeit much less than men in their position. There is no systematic study on the subject, but all the available evidence – news reports, reported court cases, academic analysis, and common experience – suggests that Muslim men in Pakistan tend to completely deny their women folk any share in inherited land by using a mix of tradition, ignorance, coercion, social pressure and state collusion.

Land is by far the most powerful and valuable item of property and a traditional measure of worldly achievement. However, keeping women ignorant of their right to inherit land, or compelling them to renounce their right in favour of male heirs is a common practice in Pakistan, especially in rural areas. Revenue officials are therefore not particularly concerned if any female claimant to land is not mentioned in the records, nor are prospective buyers keen on ascertaining if a female claimant to the land may emerge after the sale. Indeed, the consensus on excluding women from ownership of land seems to be at the heart of our patriarchic society.

It may be said that women obtain certain material benefits against giving up their right to land such as a sizeable dowry and a permanent right to maintenance from their immediate family in case of divorce. The fact that most women are not educated or trained to become financially independent is also conducive to their willingness to renounce land in favour of social protection. However, these counter arguments only serve to highlight the traditional social discrimination against women practiced in the Sub-continent since well before the advent of Islam.

It is therefore imperative for the government and academia to determine the true extent of this social travesty by analysing the land revenue records across the country. Moreover, measures should be taken to make women aware of their inheritance rights under the law and how they can use them at par with men. High school textbooks would appear to be the best place to expose girls to their inheritance rights. In the same vein, revenue authorities must be obligated to use NADRA and other databases to ascertain the identities of all the female co-owners and have them all present at the time of making new entries even if they are willing to waive their rights.