Protect women from post-Covid land wrangles

Friday August 14 2020
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Olivia Cox Namaganda

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen the whole world nearly come to a standstill, with governments taking drastic measures to try and contain its spread.

Preventive and management measures have mainly included lockdown of economies, restriction of movements and adhering to strict standard operating procedures.

In some countries, formal and informal businesses have remained shut for nearly six months. Sadly, these businesses mainly employ women, thus making them the most affected during this pandemic.

Meanwhile, not only is the Covid-19 causing serious health impacts around the world, it also has the potential to significantly affect the land and housing rights of women and girls, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

In many parts of the world, women and girls are already at a disadvantage, with limited economic assets, education, and job opportunities; and they could find themselves further behind when the crisis ends.

As earlier indicated, in the Ugandan case, most women work in the informal sector and lack any job protection or access to social security or insurance structures.
On top of that, women are also more likely to be burdened with the care of family members during a crisis – children are at home following school closures. News in the past three months has reported a rise in domestic violence, with women and children the biggest victims.
So, why should women’s housing, land, and property rights matter?

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Around the world, land serves as a foundation for security, shelter, income and livelihood. But land rights are not equitably distributed to all. This is especially true for women. In fact, women still encounter persistent barriers to their land rights, including legal barriers, in nearly 40 per cent of countries world over.

This is a problem the World Bank and partners have sought to address through the Stand for Her Land campaign in which they are working to bring down these barriers. But urgent action is needed during and after the Covid-19 crisis so that women do not fall further behind.

Previous epidemics and post-conflict or post-disaster situations have shown us that women are likely to be further disenfranchised of their rights to housing and land if their rights are not protected.
During the HIV/Aids epidemic, widows and orphans often lost property to other family members and were left homeless, even as they dealt with their own health emergencies.

Women in traditional, customary, polygamous, or informal marriages are further at risk, because rights to housing, land, and other property are usually dependent on their being formally married (in relationships sanctioned by the State). In such scenarios, the following are existent:

Women and girls are often highly dependent on male relatives to access housing, land and other property. Should their male relatives succumb to the pandemic, women and girls’ tenure security may further weaken due to limited legal protection, lack of documentation, and restrictive social norms. They can be at particular risk of land grabbing by their husband’s relatives.

Pandemics may reduce other economic assets, such as wages and savings, making housing land and property even more important part of overall household assets. This may increase competition and conflict over housing, land and other property. In such situations, women may lack the financial resources, information, or support to enforce/realise their property rights.

Therefore, it is critical to implement broad protective measures that ensure no one will lose their home during the pandemic period.

Ms Olivia Cox Namaganda works with Buganda
Land Board as team leader for sensitisation.

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