Af­ter four decades of war, Afghan wid­ows bat­tle for homes

Kuwait Times - - Analysis -

Af­ter her hus­band was killed and their home in Bagh­lan prov­ince torched in Afghanista­n’s lon­grun­ning war, Nasim Gul fled nearly 200 miles to Kabul with her four chil­dren and moved in with her cousin, sewing clothes to eke out a liv­ing. As a widow, Gul could not claim the small plot of land her hus­band had tended, nor was she wel­come in her fam­ily home, which she had left as a young bride. “With­out my hus­band, it was very dif­fi­cult for me to find a home,” said Gul, 45, who wears a burqa that cov­ers her from head to toe when she steps out­side the home. “It has been hard liv­ing with my cousin for nine years. But no one was will­ing to give a home to a sin­gle woman,” she said.

Gul is one of an es­ti­mated 2 mil­lion wid­ows in Afghanista­n who have been dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected by the war. Of­ten un­e­d­u­cated and with few liveli­hood op­tions, they are also gen­er­ally de­nied a share of land and prop­erty, even though these rights are rec­og­nized in the Afghan con­sti­tu­tion, its Civil Code and in Is­lamic sharia law, women’s rights groups say. Se­cu­rity of ten­ure is usu­ally tied to men, and Afghan cul­tural norms and cus­tom­ary prac­tices of­ten deny women these rights, par­tic­u­larly those who are wi­d­owed or di­vorced, said Sheila Qayumi at the non­profit Equal­ity for Peace and Democ­racy.

“Es­pe­cially in the prov­inces, women face se­vere re­stric­tions and are treated no bet­ter than a cow or a goat. They have no rights, and their names are gen­er­ally not on any doc­u­ments, so it can be hard for them to claim their le­gal rights,” she said. “Di­vorced and wi­d­owed women of­ten have to live in the homes of their male rel­a­tives or in-laws, where they can also face ha­rass­ment or vi­o­lence if they claimed their land or prop­erty rights. So they of­ten give up their claim to avoid that.” Ha­rass­ment and hur­dles Women have made huge strides in the con­ser­va­tive coun­try since a ban dur­ing Tale­ban rule of 1996 to 2001 from school, work, pol­i­tics and go­ing out­side with­out a male rel­a­tive. But while grow­ing num­bers of women now com­plete ed­u­ca­tion and work in pre­vi­ously male bas­tions, they con­tinue to face ha­rass­ment and hur­dles, hu­man rights groups say. This is true par­tic­u­larly of hous­ing, land and prop­erty. Only about 12 per­cent of land in Afghanista­n is arable, ac­cord­ing to the World Bank, and 40 years of con­flict have left war­lords and pow­er­ful land­lords in con­trol.

To­day, about 2.5 mil­lion reg­is­tered refugees in the world are from Afghanista­n, the high­est num­ber af­ter Syria, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions. In ad­di­tion, more than 2 mil­lion have been in­ter­nally dis­placed by the fight­ing. As hun­dreds of thou­sands of Afghan refugees are forced back, or re­turn of their own ac­cord, many have opted to set­tle in cities for work and have strug­gled to find hous­ing. So, they have built il­le­gal homes on any patch of avail­able land.

These in­for­mal struc­tures make up more than twothirds of the set­tle­ments in big cities in­clud­ing Kabul, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment au­thor­i­ties. Hous­ing for re­turn­ing refugees and fe­male-headed house­holds is a pri­or­ity, said Ari­ful­lah Arif, plan and pol­icy di­rec­tor for the Min­istry of Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment and Land. The gov­ern­ment aims to hand out at least 200,000 apart­ments and plots this year, and build ad­di­tional hous­ing as re­quired, he said in an in­ter­view. It also aims to give one mil­lion “Oc­cu­pancy Cer­tifi­cates” to in­for­mal set­tlers over the next three years. The cer­tifi­cate pro­tects the holder from evic­tion for five years, af­ter which they are el­i­gi­ble to ap­ply for a land ti­tle.

Un­usu­ally for Afghanista­n, the cer­tifi­cates are is­sued in the names of both the hus­band and wife, and just the woman in the case of fe­male-headed house­holds. In Kabul’s District 1, the small­est of the city’s 22 dis­tricts, about 550 house­holds - out of more than 9,600 - have re­ceived Oc­cu­pancy Cer­tifi­cates, many of them fe­male­headed house­holds, said deputy mu­nic­i­pal di­rec­tor Wahida Sa­madi.

“Putting the names of women on the cer­tifi­cates has had a ma­jor im­pact, cul­tur­ally and psy­cho­log­i­cally,” she told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion in her of­fice. “With the joint ti­tle, women are more se­cure that they won’t be di­vorced or aban­doned by their hus­bands. For wid­ows, it means more se­cu­rity and a place in so­ci­ety,” she said.

For Rogul Yer­mal, 62, a widow who re­ceived an Oc­cu­pancy Cer­tifi­cate two years ago, it has meant just that. When her hus­band died 15 years ago, his male cousin tried to oust her sev­eral times from her mod­est home on a hill­side. He only backed off when her young sons re­sisted, she said. Since she got the cer­tifi­cate, Yer­mal has painted her 100-sq-m home and used the doc­u­ment as col­lat­eral for a bank loan for a house for her youngest son. “I never had any doc­u­ments in my name be­fore,” she said. “Since I got the cer­tifi­cate, I feel safe and can sleep well, know­ing no one can take my house from me.”

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