New research by the Norwegian Refugee Council reveals that displaced women are much worse off than men: they are 11 per cent more likely to face barriers impeding them from going back home after years of suffering in displacement camps since the end of the war against Islamic State group in their areas of origin.
The barriers include inability to regain access to their property, re-establish ownership and seek compensation for damaged property. Nine per cent of women surveyed across Dohuk, Ninewa, Kirkuk and Anbar governorates said their property was occupied by community or tribal leaders, militias and security forces.
Of over 1,000 women surveyed, 43 per cent rejected the statement that women had a right to own all types of property, despite Iraqi law that protects women’s housing, land and property rights. One in five women said, erroneously, that under Iraqi law women were not entitled to property following divorce, and 18 per cent said they had no inheritance rights. One in three said that in reality women received nothing following divorce and nearly one in four (23 per cent) said they had no inheritance rights in practice.
“The systemic injustices that hundreds of thousands of displaced Iraqi women face mean the wounds of war will continue to fester” said Rishana Hanifa, NRC’s Country Director in Iraq. “Women are prevented from rebuilding their lives after conflict. Reconstruction efforts which focus only on infrastructure and ignore women’s rights are bound to fail.”
While Iraqi law guarantees women’s property rights, family traditions and tribal customs mean that the majority of women face insurmountable barriers to achieving those rights.
“Our property is still in good condition but has been taken over by members of my husband’s family, after my husband went missing, and they will not give me the share I am entitled to,” said Khamael, 35 from Mosul living in Hammam Al Alil displacement camp. “Only tribal leaders can decide if we can go back or not, if we can have our property back or not. Official papers will not change anything.”
NRC surveyed 1,002 people, held 64 focus group discussions and held 59 in-depth interviews across the four conflict-affected governorates. The results also indicate that the mere suspicion of affiliation to IS group may deny women the right to prove their ownership on homes and lands even if they possess official documents.
“We have the papers proving that the house belongs to us, but when we fled we left everything in the house,” said Rabiya, 47 from Hawija and mother of seven. “No one from the government will help me to prove that the house belongs to us, as my husband has been accused of joining IS.” She has been living in a displacement camp since 2017.
The ongoing measures to contain Covid-19, including the shutdown of law courts and of legal dispute resolution services, as well as loss of livelihoods, are making women even more vulnerable. A recent assessment by NRC found that 64 per cent of respondents in rented houses predicted that they would not be able to pay rent in the next three months, with 42 per cent of them expecting to be evicted as a result.
NRC calls on the Iraqi government to put women’s property rights at the centre of its reconstruction process, and to expedite dispute resolution through special procedures to solve backlog of cases created by Covid-19 shutdown measures. NRC also calls on international donors to condition reconstruction funding on compliance with women-friendly policies.