The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Inheritance in Kenya: The Intersectionality of HIV Sero-Status, Poverty, and Gender

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 2:30 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 008A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Njeri Kagotho, PhD, Assistant Professor, Adelphi University, Garden City, NY

This study explores experiences with generational wealth transfers/inheritance among people living with HIV (PLHIV) in Kenya. Generational wealth transfers are a source of family economic stability. These transfers—conditioned on wealth, education, gender, and age—help establish equity among family members. The Law of Succession Act, the supreme law of Kenya as regards inheritance is a fairly progressive and gender neutral  law that protects heirs most especially children and spouses. This law is however designed to interface with other laws including traditional customary laws which are highly patriarchal and loosely enforced. Traditional customary laws have a preference for male heirs, allow for limited wealth access for females, and are characterized by the use of oral wills. Therefore although Kenyan statutory law provides protections that guarantee rightful transfers of wealth, reliance on customary laws leads to the disenfranchisement of vulnerable groups through the loss of household wealth and disinheritance especially after the death of a male head of household. 


The study applied a phenomenological approach to capture experiences of inheritance among a select group of PLHIV (N=45).  Respondents were 28 to 63 years old and 67% were female. Data was collected through in-depth focus group interviews and a brief close-ended survey. Interviews were conducted in several languages all of which the PI is fluent in. An external research agency was engaged to transcribe and translate the data after which the PI checked all transcriptions and translations to ensure accuracy and consistency.  Multiple coding was used to enhance completes of the data with the PI and a research assistant independently coding and comparing the codes for consistency.


Participants paint a picture of a society straddling the line between social traditions and statutory laws as it attempts to ascribe meaning to and regulate generational wealth transfers. This data points to vulnerabilities emanating from intersecting social identities—HIV sero status, poverty, and gender.

Respondents identify several barriers experienced by low income Kenyans in planning for or accessing their inheritance. These barriers include lack of resources needed to access institutions charged with adjudicating inheritance, financial costs associated with corruption in government and private institutions, and the inability to accumulate substantial wealth to bequeath to heirs. Participants provide personal examples of how stigma and discrimination associated with a HIV diagnosis have resulted in disinheritance. Finally they recognize that even with recent policy advancements sexism remains an enduring component in wealth transfers within a family. Even in instances where a decision is made to bequeath women, their claims can be sabotaged by male family members.


The structure that emerges from this data is clearly one of intersectionality indicating that vulnerabilities that revolve around poverty, HIV seropositivity, and gender make one susceptible to disinheritance.  As discrimination has been outlawed in several pieces of Kenyan legislation the next step should be the conceptualization of programmatic interventions targeted at educating and empowering communities to enable them protect the interests of vulnerable groups. In addition participants call for community interventions that make legal institutions more accessible.