By Sania Faizi, Staff Writer
Struck by two earthquakes that occurred less than a month apart, killing more than 8,000 people, injuring and displacing thousands more, and destroying over half a million houses, Nepal embarks on its long journey to recovery and rehabilitation. In this phase of rebuilding Nepal, it is more important than ever to equip and empower women to play an active role in shaping the future of the nation.
Nepal is a patriarchal society where women are unable to participate fully and on an equal footing with men in social, economic, and political spheres. Despite various legal changes which included giving women the right to inherit property from birth until they got married, as well as equal rights over their husband’s property, in practice, land and property ownership continues to be governed largely by traditional patriarchal gender roles. Based on government figures, women in Nepal own only 19.17 percent of land and houses. If the right of a woman to own property or land is not acknowledged, they are inevitably excluded from rebuilding these assets and from gaining ownership over the new structures that get created.
Because the idea of a female ownership of assets such as land and property is only recognised as a function of a woman’s relationship to a man, whether this be her father or her husband, single women who are heading their own households are often the most marginalised and deprived of their individual ownership rights. In Nepal, about 26 percent of houses damaged during the earthquakes are believed to be headed by women. The ownership rights of these women must be recognised to allow them a real chance at starting over and regaining their livelihoods. Even for women that are married and living in male headed households, independent ownership of external assets such as land is an important source of security because a woman may draw on these assets in case of a breakdown in the union, making her situation outside of the union that much better. This consequently improves her situation within the union and allows her to exercise greater control over household decision making.
UN Women is advocating for the importance of incorporating Nepalese women into the recovery process by creating general awareness that women can in fact own land legally. There is also a role to be played by grassroots organisations, NGOs, and local women’s groups in building up women and making them realise their own rights to ownership. Moreover, as Nepal receives swathes of aid over the next few years, land and property ownership rights for women can be incorporated into aid provision as well as directed into specific programs that promote women’s ownership rights.