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“Access to justice for displaced women: spotlight on the rights to housing, land and property”

Last updated: 17.03.2014 // Norway co-hosted the launch of the Norwegian Refugee Council’s report on displaced women’s rights to housing, land and property (HLP) in collaboration with UK. The report is based on a legal analysis and research from NRC programmes in six countries, including Lebanon, Palestine (Gaza) and South Sudan.

NRCs Director in Geneva Ingrid Macdonald chaired the meeting and the panel consisted of Jyoti Sanghera, OHCHR, Laura Cunial, Layal Abou Daher and Lisa Monaghan from the NRC in South Sudan and Lebanon, as well as UK Humanitarian Councellor David Ennis and Norwegian Ambassador to the UN Steffen Kongstad.

Ambassador Kongstad stated that “housing, land and property rights are critical tools to realising women’s rights, and to serve their protection and assistance needs. This report also shows how promoting these rights during and after conflict gives an opportunity to promote gender equality more generally and challenge discriminatory norms and structures.” Kongstad also underlined that “building on social relations, on customary law and on faith based structures may sometimes provide the key to solving a wide range of issues on both on individual and community level. Respecting the local informal structures, and using them to the advantage of the beneficiary, will - as reflected in the report - sometimes provide a more durable solution.”

Counsellor Ennis from the UK mission stated the necessity of mainstreaming women’s rights, and rights related to HLP in particular. He emphasized that better education and coordination of development actors and humanitarian aid workers was needed in order to promote this. It was also important to explore the role donors could play in mainstreaming women’s rights in the humanitarian response as well as in long term development work.

Keynote speaker Ms Jyoti Sanghera, chief of Human Rights and Economic and Social issues section of OHCHR, highlighted the existing framework that states are bound to under Human Rights and international law. She stressed that states have an obligation to avoid discrimination, and that economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil rights, should grant women equal rights to access, use and control of land.

NRCs representatives from Lebanon and South Sudan presented the case studies from their contexts. Laura Cunial emphasized how women’s lack of access to HLP was often embedded in traditional, cultural or social norms, or in practical barriers resulting from socio-economic disadvantages. Religious and customary law, particularly related to inheritance and marital property laws, played a key role in this matter. Economic constrains, illiteracy and lack of awareness of rights further contributed to prevent women’s access, control and management of HLP, and made women more vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and discrimination.

The report concluded with several recommendations to strengthen displaced women’s access to HLP. These included legal assistance and counselling, and engagement with religious and customary authorities to ensure that customary law was in compliance with national and international law. It was also recommended to promote women’s rights and gender equality on the agenda for the post 2015 UN development goals. This suggestion was supported by both Counsellor Ennis and Ambassador Kongstad.

Read Ambassador Kongstad’s full statement here.


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