NRC recently brought together about 40 representatives from a range of international and local organisations working in Gaza for an unprecedented discussion of the ways in which their operations affect women’s access to housing, land and property.

These organisations included the European Union, UN Women, UNRWA, OCHA, OHCHR, UNFPA, UNDP, Oxfam, Care, the Ministry for Public Works and Housing, the Ministry for Social Affairs, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), the Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR), and Women’s Affairs Centre (WAC), among others.

The event marked the launch of Realities from the ground: women’s housing, land and property rights in the Gaza Strip, an NRC report offering a comprehensive assessment of the challenges facing women in Gaza as they seek to claim these rights. The report describes how women’s ownership of assets, be it property or land, is a crucial element of economic empowerment. The report also outlines the legal frameworks – both formal and customary – with which women must grapple. It gives recommendations to steer decision-makers in international and other organisations to make sure activities addressing displacement and destruction of homes and property are adapted for women.

One of the key findings is that while women are often knowledgeable about their rights to inheritance and wish to claim their rights, the consequences for doing so are high. Women face being cut off from their families and this can be a major deterrent to claiming their rights, as well as a major cause of personal and social division. Divorced and widowed women may have no alternative but to leave their homes and return to the homes of their father or brothers, often to overcrowded conditions as well as harassment and control. Their contributions, financial or otherwise, to matrimonial property are unrecognised and undocumented.

During the event, women beneficiaries and NRC’s local partners gave vivid accounts of their personal stories and experiences of housing, land and property rights. Their perspectives brought to the fore the need to ensure gender considerations are part of the policies and operations of those working in Gaza on housing and shelter, including UN organisations and local authorities.

The discussion centred on the important role that shelter organisations can play – increasing women’s security of tenure through joint ownership of land and property by both men and women. This can mitigate against some of the negative effects that policies recognising only male heads of household can have on divorced and widowed women, in particular. Participants highlighted the need for greater coordination between organisations working on shelter and those working on women’s rights. Organisations working on women’s issues can also do more to promote women´s housing rights as a way to reduce women and girl´s vulnerability to gender-based violence.

The event concluded with an expressed desire to continue this discussion in constructive and practical ways, guided by the recommendations of the report, published in Arabic and English

NRC´s team in Gaza will continue working to support women’s housing, land and property rights in cooperation with local partners, such as the PCDCR. Funded by the EU, this collaboration provides legal assistance to women on HLP rights with a particular focus on inheritance rights through both statutory and customary mechanisms. In coming months, this project will expand its activities and include greater engagement with men, support to female mukhtars wishing to take on leadership roles, and sharing and empowerment sessions among women beneficiaries.