Know Your Rights: Shital’s Story
Nepal - Like in many countries, Nepal faces significant challenges in relation to women’s equal access to land and tenure security. Since 2004, Nepal’s Government has introduced several proactive measures to promote women’s ownership, access and control over land. For instance, depending on geographical location, the government has been exempting 25 per cent to 50 per cent tax on registration when land is owned by a woman, In case of single women; they are entitled for 35 per cent tax exemption (Financial Bill 2072, Ministry of Finance). Additionally, the government has been promoting joint registration of land in the names of husbands and wives. However, looking at the available data, the success of these measures has been limited. For example, only around 19.7 per cent of women own around 5 per cent of land throughout Nepal, and only around 11 per cent have effective control over their property (CBS, 2011).
In early December 2015, we conducted a training on ‘Negotiation, Advocacy and Leadership’ for women community leaders in the district of Surkhet. The training aims to enhance the skills of women community leaders to engage in land related discussions and enable them to influence law and policy decisions to guarantee women’s equal rights and access to land. The participants included 30 local women community leaders of the district.
During the training, IOM met with Shital Singh Rathore, Chairperson, Women Human Rights of Surkhet as she was one of the participants. Shital is a single woman and has been advocating for single women’s issues, including bringing a change in traditional stereotypes and mindsets that keep single women from participating in decision-making process and accessing resources.
On that day, Shital was coincidentally in the process of buying a plot of land for her future. On the second day of the training, she requested if she could leave early to wrap up her pending work at the District Revenue Office (DRO), Birendranagar, Surkhet. Just when she was about to leave for the DRO, she was informed about the various provisions under the current legislation, more specifically the ‘Financial Bill 2072’. She was given information regarding the provision of 35 per cent tax exemption on land registration for single women, which she had never heard of earlier.
She then later visited the Land Revenue Office to register the plot of land that she just bought. There, she was told that since she is a woman she would get 25 per cent tax exemption and not 35 per cent. She challenged the officer and asked him to go through the Financial Bill 2072 B.S, which clearly stated the 35 per cent tax exemption for single women. When asked for a supporting document to prove that she is a single woman, she submitted a copy of the card with records of social security allowance that she has been receiving from the Government as a single woman. Because she knew about her rights, she was successful in negotiating her entitlements with the officer and became the first single woman of the district of Surkhet to receive 35 per cent tax exemption on land registration.
Shital beamed with pride for being successful in negotiating her rights and applying the techniques that she just learnt in the training. “If it’s not because of the training, I may not have been successful in my negotiation and gone through all the processes in buying the land. On the one hand, I strongly believe that the training also helped in enhancing my leadership skills and equipped us with tools and techniques to conduct effective advocacy. It also raised awareness about women’s rights to land, and the benefits that we are entitled to. I will ensure that all women in the district are also made aware of such provisions from the Nepal’s government. I will do my very best to promote women’s rights to land in Surkhet”, said Shital.
Shital’s story shows that even when there’s a law that protects women’s land rights, without a proper outreach strategy, many of the women in Nepal are not aware of their rights.
The training is as part as a joint project entitled “Empowering Women for Women (W4W) implement by IOM, UNDP and UN Habitat is a first of its kind initiative in Nepal funded through the UN Peace Building Fund. The project aims to address the issue of ownership, access and control over land by women through peacebuilding lens. The project is making an attempt to unpack land issues pertaining to women in small steps and is introducing components related to women empowerment and rights of women over land and property. As a result, it is facilitating catalytic changes that will support the future land reform process, including changing attitudes, perceptions and social norms in the Nepalese Society, and giving due consideration to women’s specific needs and ideas at the policy level.