On 22-24 February 2021 decision makers, experts and practitioners will come together at the Second Arab Land Conference in Cairo to discuss strengthening land governance in the region. The Conference marks an important milestone in the roadmap towards improving land governance as a foundation to achieve socio-economic development and to contribute to peace and stability in Arab countries. Countries' experiences and new research will be presented. Good practices on how to empower and develop the capacities of land stakeholders will be showcased,building on case studies from the region.
One of the key themes to be discussed at the conference will be the access to land and housing for all. This is about people having a home and being free from the fear of forced eviction. A place that offers shelter, safety, and the ability to secure a livelihood, beyond ‘having a roof over one's head'. It includes security of ownership, availability of services, affordability, accessibility, suitability of location and cultural adequacy. It also means cultivating your land and running your business without the uncertainty of having to leave.
Several countries in the Arab region have been facing multiple humanitarian crises including civil unrest, conflicts, and political turmoil. This led to the large scale destruction of housing and infrastructure and large-scale movement within and across borders. In his Policy Brief “The Impact of COVID-19 on the Arab Region”, the Secretary General of the United Nations estimates that nearly 26 million people have been forcibly displaced, mainly in Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria and Yemen due to conflicts and to environmental threats. With the prolonged conflict, displaced communities risk permanently losing their homes, land and properties.
Protecting these properties is extremely important for the return of communities, to resume and rebuild their lives. Disputes over land ownership are often at the centre of conflict, and when the conflict ends, occupied properties can be a continued source of instability undermining long-lasting solutions for returning populations, impeding self-reliance and hampering peace building processes. Good land governance approaches help local administrations to resolve land-related conflicts and create an enabling environment for unlocking investments and reconstruction.
In many contexts, access to land and housingremains a privilege that few can enjoy. Minorities and vulnerable groups are less secure in their homes. Women are also often disadvantaged. Various factors, including socially prescribed gender roles, traditional norms, unequal power dynamics at household and community level, discriminatory family practices, unequal access to justice, bureaucratic land administration processes and reduced access to credit all serve as a barrier to women’s secure access to housing, land and properties. This costs a lot to Arab societies.
Access to housing, land and property is important for women’s empowerment as it provides an additional layer of protection to women, making it easier for them to take care of themselves and their families. It rebalances the power within the family and society and it also proved a good entry point to increase civic engagement and public participation of women. The combined effects of these improvements in women’s lives will result in women’s increased ability to contribute to the economic life and the overall socio-economic development of Arab societies.
Secure access to land and housing are the basis for improved food production, poverty reduction, economic prosperity and inclusive sustainable development. This is why UN-Habitat works to ensure equal access to land and tenure security for all, with a particular focus on the poor, women and youth.
The Arab Land Conference, taking place in Cairo on 22-24 February, is an opportunity to think and deliberate about how good land governance can advance sustainable and inclusive development in our societies. It provides a platform for collaboration and coordination on land-related interventions; developing and sharing regional knowledge; and building capacities of individuals and organizations to advance towards more equitable and inclusive land management.
The Women and Land Campaign, launched by UN-Habitat andthe Stand for Her Land Campaign’s partners at the Arab Land Conference,raises awareness on how to overcome the challenges that women face in accessing their housing, land and property rights. The Campaign draws the public’s attention to this important theme and on howto empower womenthrough better access to housing and land, an important steppingstone to have better lives and play a more active role in their communities and economies.
*Erfan Ali, UN-Habitat Regional Representative for Arab States