Land is of tremendous importance in South Sudan. It represents community, belonging and place as well as provides a source of income, subsistence and survival. Control of land and resources was at the centre of the conflict that lasted five decades, leading to South Sudan’s independence in 2011.
Decades of conflict have led to continued displacement and a lack of secure land to live and farm on. Many men have been killed, leaving women as household heads to support their families by themselves. The upheaval that has occurred due to war and the creation of a new country has also created some opportunities for women.
South Sudan has adopted very progressive legislation protecting women’s HLP rights. The Transitional Constitution, the Land Act and the Local Government Act, all explicitly recognise women’s rights to own and inherit land and property. The Constitution also calls on all levels of government to enact laws to combat harmful customs and traditions, which undermine the dignity and status of women.
Tradition is hard to change, however, and there still remains a significant gap between law and practice. Women’s HLP rights have in the past been linked to a husband or male family member. This can lead to loss of property and land for widows, daughters and divorcees. There is currently a tension between those who want to maintain these customary practices and the new laws and legal structures that offer women better protection. Bribery and corruption can also provide a financial barrier to women getting documentation of land ownership and other rights.
The Government of South Sudan should:
- Sign, ratify and accept the obligations set out in key international instruments supporting women’s’ rights to adequate housing
- Acknowledge that failure to consult women is a violation of the good practice set out in the landmark UN Security Council Resolution 1325 – On Women, Peace and Security.
- Conduct gender training for officials and leaders of relevant government and non-statutory bodies
- Ensure that statutory law provisions promoting equal rights for women to land are applied by customary courts
- Ensure that clear and accessible mechanisms for land administration and management are established and maintained to protect women’s rights to land in order to address the widespread corruption among land actors
- Appoint women to leadership and decision making positions within the land sector
- Develop immediate and long-term assistance strategies to support the significant numbers of returnee and displaced women who are landless
- Explore possible ways of waiving fees for surveying and registration of land, especially for vulnerable households
- Conduct research to assess the level of discrimination and exclusion of women from government-supported land surveying and demarcation processes.
UN Agencies and International NGOs should:
- Create safe spaces that encourage women, particularly those that are acutely vulnerable, to seek out information on their rights and how to participate in land reform and leadership processes
- Support women’s community-based organisations as they are often overlooked
- Collaborate with violence against women (VAW) actors
- Ensure HLP-related programmes avoid treating gender as an issue separate from all others
- Document findings regarding the extent of the problems faced by women
- Support authorities in the survey and demarcation of land with the aim of preventing or at least minimising corrupt and gender discriminatory practices.
- Ensure that discriminatory customs are not reinforced by working solely or primarily with Chiefs.
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