Despite the current crisis affecting the country, NRC’s Information, Counselling and Legal Assistance (ICLA) project in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state took the opportunity presented by the relative calm in the state to launch NRC’s new report “Nowhere To Go: Displaced and Returnee Women Seeking Housing, Land and Property Rights in South Sudan” at an advocacy event held on February 27, 2014 in Aweil Town. The report identifies the gender-specific constraints that women face in accessing their housing, land and property rights in South Sudan, and offers recommendations directed at the Government of South Sudan, UN agencies and INGOs.

Panelists included the Hon. Minister of Information, Jacqueline Nyibol, Mr. William Anyuon Kuol, Director General, Ministry of Physical Infrastructure, and Hon. Deng Ayom Ayom, Chairperson of Physical Infrastructure and Services Committee, of the State Legislative Assembly. Following a presentation by NRC on the specific challenges faced by women in accessing their HLP rights, returnee women spoke of their struggles, and panelists responded to their concerns.

Returnee women and their advocates voiced a number of their demands, including the need for consultations to be held with women’s groups on the draft Land Policy for the state, and more broadly for government actors to curb the practice of exclusively consulting customary chiefs on land-related matters. They also demanded that gender officers be appointed within the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure, that land-related fees be waived or made subject to vulnerability criteria, particularly to address the inability of female-headed households to afford such fees, and that widespread corruption among land actors and land-grabbing by powerful interests be addressed through transparent and accessible mechanisms for land administration.

“Despite enacting a transformative post-independence legal framework, including constitutional guarantees of women’s right to own and inherit land and property, as well as similar protections under the national Land Act and Local Government Act which deals with customary courts, returnee and IDP women in South Sudan continue to face multiple challenges in accessing their HLP rights”, said Mohammed Khan, NRC’s ICLA Project Manager.  This was affirmed by returnee women who spoke passionately of the sacrifices and contributions they made during the war against Sudan, during which the desire to control land and natural resources was a key driver, and how they have yet to realize the fruits of independence.

Although the recent crisis in South Sudan has shifted the focus of donors and humanitarian actors to emergency response, it will be important not to lose sight of the fact that there is still a long way to go for returnee and IDP women throughout South Sudan to realize their housing, land and property rights and achieve durable solutions.