Housing, Land and Property Task Force Afghanistan: A brief guide to women's land rights in Afghanistan


This brief provides information on legal mechanisms to protect the Housing, Land and Property (HLP) rights of women in Afghanistan. The guidance note is not a legal document, but provides information and analysis from the Housing, Land and Property Task Force (HLPTF).

The HLPTF is a sub-cluster of the Protection Cluster, and part of Afghanistan’s Humanitarian Country Team.
The content of this brief is extracted from UN-Habitat’s (forthcoming) Housing, Land and Property Rights Guide.

Land ownership and gender inequality in Afghanistan

Unequal access to land is a major cause of gender inequality in Afghanistan. Though no accurate data exist, the HLPTF estimates that less that 5 per cent of land tenure/ownership documents include the name of a female family member. Instead, women’s relationship to land in Afghanistan is typically secondary – through her relationship with a male owner. Consequently, gender inequitable land rights constitute a major cause of gender-based asset inequality, particularly given that land is often a household’s most valuable asset.

Gender inequitable land rights underpin many forms of gender inequality. Any investments made on male owned property that increase its value or income generating potential entrenches the economic marginalisation women. This has implications for humanitarian and development interventions that invest in upgrading housing, or provide agricultural services, such as fertiliser or irrigation. Women’s constraints to obtaining land documents also has implications for their access to social and economic services, such as formal sector bank loans. Inequitable land rights perpetuate deep-rooted cultural models of gender that underpin the socioeconomic exclusion of women. Land is often viewed as more than an economic asset: as a source of cultural prestige and influence. Hence, the exclusion of women from land ownership contributes to their marginalisation in wider cultural and political dialogues, particularly in decision making fora at the household and community level.

Given its social, economic and cultural importance, equitable access to land is key to securing sustainable gains in Afghan women’s empowerment. In response, this brief will highlight the legal mechanisms through which women can access land, and discuss how gender equitable laws can be converted to tangible impacts for women’s land rights in Afghanistan.

What are the legal frameworks for asserting women’s land rights?

While in practice women have insecure land rights in Afghanistan, in principle there are a number of legal frameworks that protect women’s land rights, including the 2004 Constitution and various other laws (Table 1). In this regard, Article 22 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination between the citizens of Afghanistan, and declares the principle that women and men both have rights and duties before the law. Another key document is the 1977 Civil Code, which is drawn from Sharia Law and thus enjoys a high level of cultural as well as legal legitimacy. The Civil Code provides guaranteed rights of ownership and inheritance of land to both men and women. As detailed in Table 1, The Land Management Law, the Occupancy Certificate law (see HLP legal brief 1), and the PD 305 on land allocation (see HLP legal brief 2) also include important components to promote gender equitable land rights.