The crisis that engulfed the Central African Republic (CAR) in the end of 2012 resulted in the perpetration of gross human rights violations, including the widespread looting and destruction of homes. As people fled the violence they left behind land which others occupied illegally. More than a year after the height of the crisis, approximately 440,000 Central Africans continue to be internally displaced. Almost half a million are refugees in neighbouring countries.
NRC’s Information, Counselling and Legal Assistance (ICLA) programme in the Central African Republic has published a brief showing the difficulties widows face when they return to their homes after the conflict. Consequences of Evicting Widows is part of broader research by NRC on housing, land and property rights for displaced and host communities.
The research uncovered critical challenges for women´s return and recovery, including the traditional practice whereby the family of a deceased husband evicts his widow, and in some cases also their children, from the marital home. The widow is expected to return to live with her parents or other remaining family The practice of evicting women from their homes upon the death of their spouse/partner has severe implications for the many displaced women who have lost their husbands during the conflict and subsequently lose their homes and land, and their ability to support their families.
NRC´s research found that even though the law does not discriminate against women’s inheritance rights, in practice these are difficult for women to enforce. Most importantly, the ability of wife to inherit marital property depends on being in a formal or legal marriage. The vast majority of women – 90 per cent – are thought to be either in a traditional marriage or cohabiting, which means they have very little legal protection and limited recourse when evicted. This takes on even greater significance after the conflict when many husbands have been killed or are missing – and having a home is essential for women to rebuild their lives and take care of their family.
- The Ministry of Humanitarian Action (specifically the Directorate on the Promotion of Women) and the Ministry of Justice should undertake a study on the challenges facing IDP and returnee women in exercising their HLP rights.
- The Directorate on the Promotion of Gender, the MINUSCA Gender Unit, UN Women, UNFPA, HLP Working Group and other relevant organisations should undertake awareness-raising activities on the equal rights of men and women, including in the domain of HLP rights.
- Legal assistance should also be made available to IDP and returnee women (and women generally affected by displacement) to increase their access to collaborative dispute resolution mechanisms and statutory and ‘traditional’ processes in order to be able to claim their HLP rights and seek redress when evicted.
- The Ministry of Humanitarian Action’s Directorate on the Promotion of Gender, the MINUSCA Gender Unit and other relevant organisations should continue the work that commenced in 2010 on the prevalence of non-legalised marriages and co-habitation, its consequences and possible solutions.