South Sudan: Supporting the protection and implementation of women’s housing, land and property rights

In 2019, over 1.6 million persons in South Sudan were internally displaced. Over 200,000 such individuals were living in protection of civilians sites hosted by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). While the implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Armed Conflict in South Sudan has led to a decrease in armed violence in many parts of the country, internally displaced persons continue to face many difficulties when returning to their communities.

Illegal occupation of housing, land, and property remains one of the key impediments to the voluntary and safe return of individuals from internally displaced persons and protection of civilian sites and remains a source of conflict. Since early 2018, under the Mission’s protection of civilians mandate, the UNMISS Rule of Law Advisory Unit has been raising awareness and providing technical advice to national and international stakeholders in order to improve frameworks to better protect the displaced population’s housing, land, and property rights.

In addition to the challenges that many internally displaced persons face upon return, women-headed households face additional hurdles. Despite robust legal protections in the Transitional Constitution and the 2009 Land Act, gaps in recognition and implementation of legal provisions mean that women continue to face daily challenges to assert their rights to access, own, and inherit land in South Sudan.

To support the implementation of women’s rights to housing, land and property, in 2019, UNMISS worked with the Parliamentary Land Committee and the Ministry of Gender, along with other international partners, to organize a workshop on women’s land rights. The aim of the workshop was to help women across South Sudan voice the discrimination and challenges they face to assert their rights and to identify recommendations to overcome such challenges.

Attendees during the Land Policy Workshop in Juba, 2019

In preparation for the workshop, hundreds of women across the country participated in 23 focus group discussions on women’s land rights, organized in rural and urban areas, informal settlements, and protection of civilian sites. The concerns and experiences expressed by women during these focus groups guided the workshop discussions and helped to ensure that future policies reflect realties on the ground.

The Women’s Land Rights workshop took place in Juba in May 2019 and brought together over 200 women from across South Sudan, including traditional leaders, members of parliament, several ministries, civil society, faith-based organizations, members of South Sudan People’s Defense Forcesand the National Police Service, as well as the Housing, Land, and Property Technical Working Group, and UN entities.

The workshop facilitated the sharing of experiences and concerns relating to women’s housing, land and property rights. As one woman expressed, “I do not own land, cattle, goat, chicken or any property, such things are owned by men, I only take care of them.”

Another woman voiced her apprehension, “If you are widowed and have no children, you will be left without any support from your own or your husband’s family,” a concern that was mirrored by other statements; “Divorced women go empty handed and leave all things to men.”

“To protect themselves and their resources, women many need to conform to the power of their husband’s relatives,” commented another participant.

The workshop resulted in important recommendations on how to protect women’s land rights, and, ultimately, close the gap between law and practice to allow women to build sustainable livelihoods and durable peace in South Sudan.

Workshop participants speak after the Women’s Land Rights Workshop in Juba, 2019

These recommendations served as the key input to a later Land Policy Workshop in June 2019 for Members of Parliament to discuss reforms to the 2014 draft national Land Policy.

Organized by the Parliamentary Land Committee, with assistance from UNMISS and other international partners, the Land Policy Workshop was attended by over 75 Members of Parliament, line ministries, the Land Commission, and land tenure experts, and helped revitalize the legislative process necessary for the Land Policy’s review and adoption.

UNMISS’ Rule of Law Section, in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration, provided technical assistance to the Parliamentary Land Committee in order to incorporate amendments based on the outcome of the Land Policy Workshop and to finalize the Land Policy, including provisions on the protection of women’s land rights.

In parallel with supporting women’s consultations and the development of the Land Policy, UNMISS, alongside the Housing, Land, and Property Technical Working Group, took the lead in compiling a resource library to assist the Government, civil society, NGOs, UN entities and other partners to develop housing, land and property solutions to assist internally displaced persons to achieve sustainable housing and livelihood solutions.

It also compiled housing, land and property question sets to help determine the assistance required by local, state, and traditional authorities to support the safe, informed, and voluntary return or the relocation of internally displaced persons, and address issues of secondary occupation and land-related disputes.

Once adopted, the Land Policy will be a crucial piece of legislation in South Sudan for strengthening communities’ and women’s land rights, promoting transparent land governance, peacefully resolving land-related disputes, and supporting internally displaced persons to protect and access their land rights.

The Land Policy’s adoption will also pave the way for other legislation to strengthen the institutional framework for land governance in South Sudan.

We help countries navigate the difficult path from conflict to peace.