They are still losing out to male family members, a US-based group stresses Laws designed to protect Chinese women's rights to a share of their family's land are failing and need to be improved, a US-based group says. New regulations are needed to protect women from losing land to male family members, says the Rural Development Institute, a non-governmental organisation. An unpublished report by the institute's Seattle-based attorney Jennifer Brown said when a woman married, it was common practice that her portion of the family's land went to her brothers. However, when sons are married, families are willing to partition their land holdings, which are allocated to households, not individuals. Ms Brown said legal ambiguity allowed women to be stripped of their land rights. 'Currently, arable land-use rights are jointly held by all household members. Chinese laws are silent on whether such jointly held rights are identifiable to individual members and thus partitionable by individual members. 'Because of this legal ambiguity, the individual ability to partition household arable land-use rights is dependant on intra-household arrangements, which are in turn heavily influenced by the male-dominant culture,' she wrote in her report. China began to address land-use rights for women in a land contract law passed last year. It stipulated that a woman's land should be preserved in her home village after her marriage until she is allocated land in her husband's village in the next round of readjustments. The move was hailed as a significant step forward in protecting women's rights. In practice, however, the new law has been problematic. The government is eager to ensure stable tenure of land, so readjustment is normally not encouraged, unless there is a natural disaster or significant imbalance, according to the institute's Beijing representative, Li Ping. As a result, women have to wait for a long time before being allocated land in their husbands' villages, Dr Li said. He hoped that clauses defining rural land rights as partitionable would be included when local governments developed regulations for the land contract law. Ms Brown's report said removing the ambiguity and defining land as a shared, joint property that could be partitioned within households would also help protect women in cases of divorce or if their husband died. Currently, land may often be given to the closest male relative of the husband. Since rural households have no social security benefits, land is their most valued possession. The household responsibility system introduced in the 1970s guarantees each household a piece of land.