Statement delivered by UNDP Country Director, Ms. Anne-Isabelle during the Regional Workshop on HIV/AIDS and Property Rights for Women

Dec 3, 2007

Statement delivered by Ms. Anne-Isabelle, UNDP Country Director at the Opening session of the Workshop on Women’s Inheritance and Property Rights and HIV
Monday, 3 December 2007, Time: 1:30 pm,
Honorable Judge Kalyan Shrestha, Supreme Court
Senior government officers
Representatives from Non Government Organizations and Communities
Representatives from the media,
Colleagues and friends

It is a great pleasure for me to address this opening session of the workshop— Women’s Inheritance and Property Rights and HIV in the presence of such an eminent and motivated group.

We are here today because we all believe in and want to advocate further for the upholding of fundamental rights of people, and in this particular occasion for the rights of women on inheritance, property rights, especially in the context of HIV .

In Nepal, although more cases have been reported among men, the HIV infection rate among housewives, between 2005 and 2006 rose by 100 percent, according to Nepal’s National Centre for AIDS and STDs. According to the National Women's Commission less than 1% of women in Nepal have legal ownership of homes, properties and other assets.

Women who own property or otherwise control assets are better positioned to improve their lives and cope when they experience crisis. This empowering aspect of property— both economically and socially— is especially vital for women with and affected by HIV and AIDS. The rights on property and assets are equally crucial to preserving the rights of the children, especially when women bear the double brunt of being widowed and with or affected by HIV and AIDS.

Land is also closely associated to status in society, to being a citizen, to home and a house. Depriving women of rights to land can lead to depriving them to all of the above.

We have all witnessed the dramatic plight of especially poor Nepali women and girls from rural areas, with increased vulnerability due to their HIV status having to move to urban areas where they are often exploited, many become involved in commercial, or occasional, sex work for survival reasons. This is exacerbated by the country’s civil conflict and political instability which has not yet been fully resolved and has increased mobility and displacement across the country.

Religious and cultural tradition, lack of education and ignorance of the law, lack of access to information remain also harsh barriers to the exercise of women’s basic rights, especially in the mountainous areas.

In 2004, the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS identified seven priority areas for work with women and HIV for agencies to take forward. One priority area was women’s inheritance and property rights. UNDP’s regional HIV/AIDS program in Asia and the Pacific has been engaged on the issues in the region, following successful initiatives in Africa, particularly Ethiopia.

The good news yet is that the legal framework for ensuring women’s rights exits. It exists both at the international level and at the national level. At the international level, the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human rights, the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women to which Nepal is a signatory are just a few of the instruments which provide for rights of women. It is widely accepted that unless Goal 3 of the Millennium Development Goals promoting Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women is achieved, other goals can not be achieved. In Nepal, the country’s Constitution provides protection for women and stipulates nondiscrimination and equality as fundamental rights, and the law provides rights to women for inheritance and property rights.

The challenge is, like in so many countries, how we ensure the law is de facto implemented.

And this is where you, where we come in. Between all of you, of us, the justice, the media, the civil society, the government, the development partners, there is all the knowledge, the tools, the motivation and commitment to actively promote the rights of women to land and property and to make it happen.

And this is what women across Nepal are expecting from us: while they need awareness on their rights, they also want the means to getting these rights implemented now, not in some distant future.

As such in the coming days, we need to put all our heads together to figure out what kind of advocacy cum action programme we can put together to make these changes happen. Can we design some form of “fast track”, low cost, quick resolution, easily available legal process which will allow both the men and women to go and get the title transfer done without further delays and complications?

While we are here a small group of highly committed individuals, how can we in a coordinated and concerted way, through our respective channels, networks, through our daily life expand this advocacy cum action network across the country to reach out to the most remote, the most disinherited women? How can we become real catalysts for change and empower others, throughout the country to also become further catalysts for change and to finally change the life of women?

My dear friends and colleagues: the women of Nepal and especially the women with and affected by HIV and AIDS are waiting for our answers and for our concrete solutions. The challenge is out. Let us find the ways to respond to it and it would be wonderful if same time , next year, we could reconvene and take stock of how many new women have now title to land and property.

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