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The HLP Rights of Conflict Affected Women in Northeast Nigeria

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Alexandra Hartman


Since 2010, conflict between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram militants has brought violence and destruction to Northeast Nigeria and led to the displacement of over two million people.1 The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is an independent humanitarian organisation assisting people affected by conflict and forced displacement in 31 countries around the world. In the Northern Nigerian states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa NRC implements water and sanitation programmes, education and livelihoods support, and information, counselling and legal assistance (ICLA). In Nigeria, NRC’s ICLA team provides information, counselling and legal assistance on housing, land and property (HLP), they also train stakeholders on HLP, and conduct research into the barriers conflict-affected populations face as they exercise their legal rights and advocates on their behalf.

Around the world women face obstacles exercising their equal right to HLP as well as tenure security. Both de jure restrictions on women’s property rights and de facto norms and practices limit women’s equal legal rights.2 Women’s experiences during conflict and crisis compound this inequality. This report on displaced women’s housing, land and property rights (DWHLP) is part of ICLA’s global effort to document the situation of women’s HLP rights during displacement in their own words and from their perspective and to address the lack of specific remedies available to women and men in response to this issue.

The report finds that both local customary and religious institutions create the conditions for women and men to perceive women to be of a lesser value within the household in Northeast Nigeria. As a result, women exercise many fewer rights over HLP compared with men. While women are not forbidden from owning property, in practice, participants in this research report that only relatively wealthy women do so and that this is beyond the reach of most women.

The research also shows that the social norms that structure relationships within the household are critical for women’s enjoyment of HLP rights. Women enjoy rights through their husbands and fathers, and if they have positive relationships then they are better able to participate in decision-making and are less vulnerable. Women on their own, including divorced women, are vulnerable within the current property rights framework.

The research also shows that social norms that shape relationships between men and women, including whether women have the right to work outside the household, or participate in household decisions, are changing rapidly. It is not yet sure whether changes in norms as a result of the conflict and displacement will be permanent, but it is clear that both the conflict and the humanitarian intervention are changing power dynamics and women’s enjoyment of HLP rights. Future interventions should consider how to prevent backlash, generate buy-in, and find durable shifts towards a more inclusive property rights system for women and men.