Access to housing, land 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. Demographic changes that occur during conflict result in higher numbers of single women and women-headed households.
In general, women-headed households have a higher dependency burden than male-headed households. Poverty in these families is made worse when gender-biased inheritance laws deprive women of access to the property of a deceased or missing spouse.
Even before conflict, women are disadvantaged when it comes to HLP entitlements. Land ownership remains largely restricted to men, both by tradition and law. Globally, men’s landholdings are almost three times the size of those of women. Inheritance is fundamental for the accumulation of assets, including land, yet often women and girls have fewer inheritance rights than men and boys.
Conflict makes these inequalities worse. Women experience the loss of HLP rights at every stage of displacement. When women are forced to leave their homes, finding a place to stay is critical to survive displacement and provide safety for their families.
Women also have different experiences of HLP rights in return situations. Women are less likely than men to possess documentary evidence of their land tenure and more likely to experience violence in relation to their dispute.
Displaced and returnee women who are widowed, separated, disabled and illiterate may be particularly vulnerable and are often without support systems or networks. Housing, land and property can be the only economic assets these women have. Their survival and that of their families can depend on them. Many displaced women are left with few real options but to challenge their families and communities to have independent access to these assets.
These gender-specific differences require special measures to enhance gender equality in HLP through ensuring better access for women. Critical in this is working with grassroots women’s organisations to help change social and cultural perceptions and attitudes regarding women’s HLP rights.
Access to HLP is key to improving the life of displaced women, which will benefit their families, communities, and nations. In this way, supporting women’s HLP rights represents an opportunity to strengthen the links between humanitarian responses and to set the framework for sustainable recovery and development.
Leader in Displaced Women’s HLP Rights
NRC continues to undertake research and explore new approaches and partnerships to support displaced women to access HLP.
A first in-depth research project was started in 2011. The project collected evidence from NRC’s Information, Counselling and Legal Assistance (ICLA) programmes for displaced communities in six countries – Afghanistan, Ecuador, Lebanon, Liberia, Palestine (Gaza), and South Sudan. A global report Life can change: Securing housing, land and property rights for displaced women (2014) presented the common themes, challenges, and positive results for displaced women drawn from the six country case studies.
Six separate country reports were also drafted, documenting the unique experiences of displaced women in accessing HLP rights. Several country case studies focused on displaced women’s HLP rights have been produced since. Links to these reports are listed below.
The report Displaced Women and Homelessness (2016) identifies conflicts as a cause of homelessness. It describes how those displaced people who face discrimination because of their ethnicity, place of origin and gender, are more likely to become homeless and, once homeless, are exposed to more serious protection risks.
The latest report Consolidating Gains - Displaced Women’s Housing Land and Property Rights in Africa (2021) details the experiences of displaced women in HLP rights through case studies from Central African Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan.