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Safeguarding Afghan women’s property rights

By: Sarah Elizabeth Antos, Mohammad Zia, Enrique Pantoja
When Nasiba’s husband passed away last year, a quarrel broke out over who should inherit their home.
A cook, a mother of three, and now a widow of an Afghan soldier, Nasiba faced pressure from her in-laws to move out. As a woman living in a non-planned area in Gozar 6 in Bamiyan province, she lacked proof of ownership and feared eviction.
In Balkh Province, another mother of three feared eviction for her children. Latifa, a seamstress, had slowly scraped together just enough money to build a home on a small plot.
Four years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer; the cancer is now back and the prognosis grim. Latifa feared that after her death her children, all aged 18 and younger, with neither papers nor legal standing, would soon be homeless.
While Afghanistan’s laws give women equal rights to own land and property, ignorance, weak law enforcement, and social norms have combined to deprive Afghan women of their property rights. Experts estimate that less than 5 percent of land ownership documents in Afghanistan include the name of a female owner.
Supporting Afghan women’s property ownership rights
Excluding women from owning land or property has led to their marginalization in political and economic spheres and limited their decision-making roles at home and in communities.
Given the social, economic, and cultural importance of property ownership, equitable access to land is key to empowering Afghan women . The Ministry of Urban Development and Land (MUDL) – formerly ARAZI – has been improving land administration and promoting better access to registration services, especially for women.
This effort has been supported initially by the UN Habitat’s City for All Program, and subsequently through the Afghanistan Land Administration System Project (ALASP) financed by the World Bank and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF). So far MUDL has issued 34,370 Occupancy Certificates (OC) and more than half include a woman’s name.
These initiatives have helped Nasiba, Latifa and many other Afghan women acquire certificates that prove their rightful ownership and protect them from eviction, encroachment, or dispute. The legal documents also guarantee they can pass on their property to their children and shield them from homelessness.
Consistent with the new legal framework, under ALASP, co-titling for occupants of state land is mandatory, and husbands are now required to include their wives’ names on the certificates.
The OC program has also established Cadastral Territorial Unit Committees (CTUCs) to support coordination and help mediate land disputes. As mandated, 30 percent of CTUC members are female. A Women Land Rights Task Force, with representatives from 15 government departments, meets regularly to address gender-related challenges in the sector.
Lastly, ALASP has established dedicated help desks in eight provinces to support women seeking an OC, encourage female enrollment, and facilitate co-registration.
These officers work daily with beneficiaries like Lailoma, a Jalalabad resident whose husband preferred to put only his name on the OC for their property. Seeking some control over the family’s savings, and a hedge in case of an unforeseen catastrophe, Lailoma worked with the female help desk to convince her husband of the benefits of co-ownership.
With World Bank and ARTF support, ALASP is working to ensure that land administration and women’s property ownership laws are implemented in practice.
It will also raise awareness on women’s rights to own land, facilitate women’s access to government offices to file a claim, and increase female staff in governmental land administration institutions.
By supporting the empowerment of women and the protection of vulnerable children in female-headed households, Afghanistan is taking big steps toward empowering all of its citizens.
This article first appeared in World Bank Blogs.

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