Women's Rights to Land, Housing and Property in Post-Conflict Situations and During Reconstruction: A Global Overview

Citation:

United Nations Centre for Human Settlements. 1999. Women's Rights to Land, Housing and Property in Post-Conflict Situations and During Reconstruction: A Global Overview. Nairobi: United Nations.

Author: United Nations Centre for Human Settlement

Abstract:

The international community is beginning to recognize that women’s lack of rights in, access to and control over land, housing and property constitutes a violation of human rights and contributes significantly to women’s increasing poverty. Despite this important recognition, however, there is little information and research on the application or meaning of these rights in the context of armed conflict and reconstruction, even though women’s rights to land, housing and property are violated on a mass scale during and post conflict situations and regardless of the fact that the violation of these rights during and post conflict has a particularly acute impact on women. In turn, this report synthesizes and analyzes women's experiences across regions in accessing and controlling land, housing and property in the context of armed conflict and reconstruction. It also provides a summary of the central barriers women face in claiming and enforcing their rights to land, housing and property, it delineates the foundation which must be laid to render these rights enforceable, and suggests activities which are required to continue the struggle for women’s rights to land, housing and property.

Annotation:

  • This report was prepared as an output of Habitat 1998/99 Work Programme.  It examines recent international recognition of the fact that women’s lack of rights in, access to and control over land, housing and property constitutes a violation of human rights and contributes significantly to women’s increasing poverty.  Women’s rights to land, housing and property are violated on a mass scale during and post conflict situations.  This article synthesizes and analyzes women's experiences across regions in accessing and controlling land, housing and property in the context of armed conflict and reconstruction. It also provides a summary of the central barriers women face in claiming and enforcing their rights to land, housing and property, it delineates the foundation which must be laid to render these rights enforceable, and suggests activities which are required to continue the struggle for women’s rights to land, housing and property.

  • Access to land, housing and property is one of the principal factors determining the economic and social well-being of women, especially in situations of conflict and reconstruction, when their rights are violated on a mass scale. The number of women- headed households increases sharply in situations of conflict and reconstruction. Housing becomes not only a place for living, but also working, earning extra income through room rental, or collateral for loans. During reconstruction and rehabilitation, the restitution of land and property usually marginalizes women, leading to social and political instability in the country. Without land, housing and property rights for women, there can be no sustainable peace-building.

  • This report includes a general overview of the status of women's rights to land, housing and property outside of the context of war and reconstruction highlighting the fundamental role that rights to land, housing and property play in women’s livelihood and overall living conditions.  Then the article focuses on these rights in the context of conflict and reconstruction, highlighting the additional barriers to these rights imposed on women in this context. The remainder of the article details the conditions that are required for women to claim and enforce their rights to land, housing and property focusing on, education, the role of women's organizations, community action, legal reform, and international campaigns and the current status of women's rights to land, housing and property in the context of conflict and reconstruction.

  • The significance of this report lies in its thorough exploration of the relationship between gender and land rights in both pre-conflict and post-conflict situations.  Though it may not necessarily be considered a scholarly source, it is a great starting point towards understanding the topic of gender and land rights and it is fairly integral to conducting further research.  Created by UN Habitat, it is very well-established and its sources are extensive and reliable.

Quotes:

“Women who return to their homes and lands post conflict either face the same lack of access as they did pre-conflict or, if widowed or if their spouses are missing, they are confronted by male relatives who rely on custom or power to deny and usurp women’s claims to stand in their spouse’s stead.” (2-3)

“In refugee and internally displaced camps, women may have an opportunity to come together, organize and participate in the organizing and running of camp life. These experiences coupled with the discrimination women encounter in the post conflict situation with respect to land, housing and property has resulted in the emergence of women's organizations that are focused on women's livelihood issues including women's rights to land, housing and property. These organizations are instrumental in promoting women's interests so that they appear on the reconstruction political agenda...However, this seldom occurs. Women find that upon returning home, their new roles are retrenched, and their pre-conflict, social roles are reinstated.” (3)

“At the same time, however, armed conflict and reconstruction provide women with new opportunities and roles in relation to land, housing and property that can be the germinating seed for structural change and the realization of women’s rights to land, housing and property.” (31)

“In some countries, refugee and internally displaced women who want to return to their lands and homes are prohibited from doing so if their husbands or fathers die during the war or go missing because under customary law women cannot inherit or own land, housing and property.” (35)

“In these cases women are far worse off than before the armed conflict because even though during times of peace women might not have had legal title to the land and house or could not inherit land or housing, under customary law they were at least granted the right to use or cultivate land and to occupy the house. This meant that they had shelter and access to common lands, such as forest and scrub lands used for grazing which are particularly relevant to women for gathering firewood, fruits and leaves.” (36)

“Beyond the desire to restore normalcy in THE post-conflict situation which means reverting to pre-conflict social norms and traditions, women are finding that political opportunism - rather than support for women’s equality - motivates men to support women’s participation on the battlefield or in peace negotiations. Women are often used as pawns in political bargaining.” (39)

“In post conflict situations, more than ever, most women are preoccupied with survival and basic livelihood issues which are dependent on the immediate realization of their land, housing and property rights...women will have to resort to local justice - which will rely, at least in part, on customary law - as enforced by male elders and traditional leaders.” (44)

“For example, since the liberation war in Zimbabwe, women’s organizations have played a central role in pressuring the government to ensure equality between men and women with respect to land, housing and property matters.” (48)

“There are many obstacles to women organizing in the post conflict situation. Women who had organized, formed associations and were working together in the camps find themselves geographically dispersed upon returning to their respective homes and lands. In turn, they feel isolated, with limited communication with other women in their new communities.” (49)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Women, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights

Year: 1999

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