Gender and Property Rights within Postconflict Situations


Lastarria-Cornhiel, Susana. 2005. "Gender and Property Rights within Postconflict Situations." Working Paper 12, United States Agency for International Development, Washington, DC.

Author: Susana Lastarria-Cornhiel


This paper provides an assessment of the nature of women’s property rights in regions plagued by violent conflict, reviews property rights programs funded by donors in postconflict situations, and attempts to tease out major policy and programmatic lessons. It also examines the importance of land rights and the status of women in societies that have strong customary norms and practices regarding land tenure. After exploring issues around the acquisition of land rights by women, the paper presents case studies of gendered rights to land under different types of postconflict situations, focusing on policies and programs for improving women’s land rights. Policy and programmatic recommendations are offered for improving gender equity in postconflict land tenure systems. 

In many regions of the world, households, communities, and societies are destroyed by civil war, invasions from neighboring countries, and interethnic violence. During periods of violence and conflict, the destruction of material and physical resources is devastating for families and communities, particularly for low-income populations. The destruction, however, goes beyond the material and physical. Community cohesion, governance institutions, community authority structures, and socioeconomic subsistence networks are also destroyed, leaving the most vulnerable—such as women and children—destitute and with minimal recourse for even their daily survival. Often families flee the violence and destruction to other parts of their countries or to other countries, leaving most of their belongings and assets behind.

The process of rebuilding communities’ social structures and institutions is slow and uneven. Nevertheless, the restoration of civil and human rights to all groups—including women—is the basis for rebuilding a democratic postconflict society. Land and housing make up one crucial set of rights. Property rights are recognized as an important factor in the struggle to attain economic development, social equity, and democratic governance (e.g., Herring 1999). As cultural heritage and a productive resource, the value and meaning of land is universally recognized. Its social and psychological values for rural families are also important. The challenge is to improve social equity while working for peace, security, and reconstruction. But peace must be understood as more than the absence of war and violence; reconstruction must be seen as more than bricks, roads, and telephone networks; and security must be defined as more than a strong military force.

The international community has begun to acknowledge the link among women’s lack of rights to landed property and increased levels of poverty among women, particularly in postconflict societies. The UN’s Habitat Centre brought attention to this crucial issue in 1998 by commissioning a number of papers and holding an international conference on Women’s Land and Property Rights under Situations of Conflict (UN Habitat 1999). However, only limited progress has been made in strengthening women’s rights to landed property. Women are consistently excluded from postconflict reconstruction efforts. They are thus unable to ensure that their interests are addressed. Gender-biased laws remain the primary barrier to secure land rights in many countries. Even where women have legal entitlement to ownership, they continue to be denied land rights, primarily for cultural and political reasons. (Executive Summary from original source)

Keywords: gender, gender equity, post-conflict reconstruction, women's rights, Property Rights

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equity, Land Tenure, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa, Americas, Central America, Asia, South Asia Countries: Afghanistan, Guatemala, Rwanda

Year: 2005

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