Land tenure is one of the challenges we face when helping families access decent housing. And even a greater challenge for women. Their right to own property are more limited than the rights enjoyed by men. As a result, we see that women cannot get credit, use financial services and other resources.
The terms "tenure" and "property rights" usually mean the ability to use and control land or property. It is all about relationship between people -- as individuals or groups -- and property. It may be based on written policies and laws or on unwritten customs and practices. These rules determine who can use what property, for how long, and under what conditions.
Over the past decades, women in Tajikistan have started to assume a greater role in our society. For example, almost 60 percent of those employed in the agricultural sector are women, based on data from FAO. In some regions, women head almost 40 percent of the families. This is partially explained by the 1992-1997 civil war. UN estimates that around 20,000 women were widowed during that period and the number of families headed by women grew substantially.
However, despite significant breakthroughs, women's employment is often limited to seasonal, unskilled and poorly paid jobs. And their income is only 60 percent of men's earnings. And the property rights situation is even more complex. By law, men and women have equal rights to land use and property. In theory, women can own land, inherit family property or sell it. However, theory and practice are worlds apart.
Traditional and religious factors, which have gained prominence recently, influence relations between men and women, especially in rural areas. Tajik society tends to be patriarchal. Men control the distribution and the use of land and property as well as the distribution of profits from its sale.
For example, one can see very often in rural areas that property certificates and deeds are issued to husband's parents and brothers. If a woman's husband dies, she has no legal right to that property. And no one questions this tradition.
On the other hand, joint property acquired during marriage is often registered not to the husband's name but to his relatives, his father or even grandfather. Since neither the wife nor her husband are included into the allotment certificate, a woman cannot apply for a loan and receive credit by herself. Or own any part of the property when her marriage ends.
It's high time we change things and bring theory into reality. However, this requires shifting traditional beliefs and behaviors in our society. Let's hope that we can see it happen.
Habitat for Humanity is launching a Solid Ground campaign with the aim to draw attention to the often overlooked role of land for housing. You can find more information at solidgroundcampaign.org.
Photo: John Wendle for Habitat for Humanity EMEA