Cairo: Faten, a mother-of-four, complains that her brothers have refused to give her a rightful share of the family inheritance allegedly because her husband is not a relative.

"Since my father died in 1998, I have been unable to lay my hands on my share of the land and other property left behind by my father," Faten, 49, told Gulf News.

"I can't file a lawsuit against my well-educated brothers for doing this because my act would disgrace the whole family."

She said she had to borrow money from banks and friends to cover the high cost of preparing one of her daughters for marriage.

She is one of many Egyptian women whose access to inheritance is blocked by centuries-old traditions denying them their share of inheritance on the grounds this will fragment the family's property and hand it over to strange spouses. The trend is believed to be rife in Egypt's rural areas where tribal traditions and male chauvinism are still deeply rooted.

"Though Islam has elevated women's status and enshrined their right to the family's inheritance, some traditions and misconceptions continue to deprive them of this right," said Furkhanda Hassan, the chairwoman of the governmental National Council for Women. Hassan has recently proposed a draft bill to the Egyptian Parliament to criminalise the disinheritance of lawful heirs.

"This practice is mainly due to a lack of proper understanding of the Islamic sharia [law]," Hassan added in press remarks, confirming her proposal targets women and men alike. Egypt's present Inheritance Law does not include a clear penalty against depriving rightful heirs of their share.

"But the established rule is that refusing to give relatives their legal share of inheritance is tantamount to a breach of trust," said Fawzia Abdul Sattar, a legal expert.

According to her, this offence is punishable by a maximum three-year prison term.

"The majority of victims of illegal disinheritance are powerless women who shy away from taking legal action against the male members of the family who have robbed them of their rightful portion of inheritance," Abdul Sattar said.

"Besides providing legal protection for women, there is a need to disseminate public awareness about this issue, especially as women's right to inheritance is unequivocally specified in Islam."

No date has been set yet for the Government to refer the draft bill to Parliament.