Big Questions

NRC supports land rights for displaced women

In 2011, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) embarked on a five year initiative to strengthen displaced women’s housing land and property rights (HLP), to improve NRC’s response to displaced women’s HLP issues and to provide well-researched legal, policy and practice recommendations for the humanitarian community, including practitioners, donors, governments and civil society. Research was conducted in 11 NRC Information, Counselling, and Legal Assistance (ICLA) programmes; Afghanistan, Ecuador, Lebanon, Liberia, Palestine (Gaza), Central African Republic, Panama, South Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire, Jordan and Venezuela. More information on these programmes can be found at

Each country report, available at, documents the main challenges displaced, refugee and returnee women face with regards to their HLP rights in the context of the national legal and social structure, and the role of customary and religious justice mechanisms. They illustrate how displaced women’s HLP rights have been generally neglected in humanitarian response.

Above all, NRC´s experience confirms that women’s HLP rights are not just violated and abused by warring parties, but by their own families and communities. Overwhelmingly, the main obstacles for women’s access to justice for HLP rights are repressive social norms that limit both women’s understanding of their rights and their options for seeking redress when rights are denied. This is compounded by poverty and socio-economic disadvantage; high rates of illiteracy and lack of awareness of rights, resources, social support and economic means. The women NRC works with have had their land sold by family members or occupied with impunity; they have missed out on shelter assistance when it is allocated to the male head of household; returnee women have been evicted from their family home after divorce and their inheritance rights are denied.

A recent briefing paper highlights these challenges: ‘The Kampala Convention: Make it work for women’, shows how violations are particularly acute for the nearly six million women and girls displaced in Africa. Many experience discriminatory practices such as the eviction of widows after their husband´s death during conflict. These practices disproportionally affect women and contribute to the cycle of violence continuing long after conflict ends. The report is available here

Through field-based research and legal assistance work, NRC has gained a wealth of experience and generated positive results for displaced women. NRC´s ICLA Programme supports beneficiaries through the provision of information, counseling, legal assistance, collaborative dispute resolution, capacity-building and advocacy.

NRC uses a variety of innovative practices including the provision of legal assistance in a manner that is sensitive to women’s needs and the context in which they live. Because maintaining social relations is so important to their survival, women are often reluctant to seek dispute resolution through adversarial approaches such as the statutory court procedure. Instead they opt for approaches that incorporate the use of mediation and negotiation, such as some customary and religious mechanisms. It is for this reason that for many women, customary authorities represent the most tangible way to address HLP disputes in pluralist legal systems, despite the constraints. NRC’s experience shows that when displaced women are supported to engage with customary and religious justice authorities, the result can be favorable and transformative for women as well as for their communities. In the dynamic of post-conflict context, these mechanisms present a real opportunity to improve equality in women’s HLP rights.

With ICLA Programmes in more than twenty countries, NRC is currently undertaking further work to orient legal assistance towards women’s needs on the ground, strengthening legal empowerment and improving women’s access to justice for HLP rights.

For more information on NRC’s ICLA Programmes please contact:
Monica Sanchez Bermudez (Asia and East Africa)
Fernando de Medina Rosales (Latin America and West Africa) -
Laura Cunial (Middle East) -
For more information on NRC’s work on displaced women’s HLP rights, please visit, or contact: Kirstie Farmer -