Taliban fighters patrol Kabul on August 19.

Rahmat Gul / The Associated Press

The Taliban’s return to power threatens the hard-won property rights of Afghan women, thousands of people who fled their homes during the militants’ takeover especially at risk of losing their lands and homes for good, said advocacy groups and researchers.

The Taliban imposed strict Islamic law that largely denied women’s property rights during her rule from 1996 to 2001, but since then local authorities have granted title to widows, divorced women and others. female headed households.

Taliban leaders have sought to present a more moderate face since taking power, saying women’s rights will be protected under Islam, but activists fear the fragile progress on land titles will be delayed.

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“Women already faced many challenges in exercising their property rights, but with the return of the Taliban they became even more vulnerable,” said Heather Barr, Acting Co-Director of the Women’s Rights Division. to Human Rights Watch.

“It’s very hard to imagine the Taliban respecting women’s property rights, and it will have devastating effects on women who struggle to protect themselves and their families,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. .

Afghanistan is under Taliban control. How did we get here?

Control of land and natural resources has long been a controversial issue in Afghanistan, where only around 12% of land is arable, according to the World Bank, and 40 years of conflict have left control to warlords and powerful landowners. earthlings.

Dysfunctional legal systems, corruption, a lack of transparency and accountability, and the loss of legal records and documents have made it difficult to resolve land disputes, even in recent years of relatively better governance.

Now there will likely be an increase in land disputes as families abandon their homes and the Taliban seek to settle scores and restrict women’s rights, said Jon Unruh, associate professor at McGill University in Montreal.

“There will almost certainly be significant land and property confiscations by the Taliban as they seek to punish some, reward others and earn money by trafficking in confiscated homes,” he said. .

“THE LEFT DESITATES”

While Afghan civil laws grant women equal rights to own land and property, security of tenure is generally tied to men, and cultural norms and customary practices often deny women these rights, especially those who are widowed or divorced.

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There are an estimated 2 million widows in Afghanistan.

By some estimates, less than 5 percent of land ownership documents in the country include the name of a female owner.

Under a new legal framework from the previous government, co-title to state land was made mandatory, with men required to add the names of their wives on certificates. Thousands of these certificates have been issued, according to the World Bank.

The fate of those titles “will be a problem, with likely a considerable effort by the Taliban to destroy, forge or sell them to others,” said Unruh, who studies land rights in conflict situations.

The properties of women “will be a particular problem. This is probably an area where the Taliban feel particularly justified in confiscating them, ”he added, citing the group’s strict view of girls and women in school or in work.

The Taliban said they were “not interested in anyone’s private property, but rather see the protection of life and property as their primary responsibility.”

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More than half a million people have already been displaced by violence in Afghanistan since the start of the year, according to the United Nations, with women and children making up about 80 percent of those forced to flee since the end of May. .

For these women – and for those who are trying to save their homes by staying put – it would be very difficult to insist on their property rights, said Bilquees Daud, professor at the Jindal School of International Affairs in India.

“Especially for widows and female headed households who need a male companion to go out now, it will be very difficult to exercise their property rights,” said Daud, who is Afghan.

“According to the Taliban’s fundamentalist view of Sharia law, denial of property rights to women means that they will find themselves without resources or forced to marry just to put a roof over their head,” she said.

Afghan women were seen waving placards protesting their rights on the streets of Kabul on Friday, days after the Taliban seized the capital on Sunday and recently began discussing forming a new government. Reuters

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