In constitution of Pakistan, Article 172
gives to every citizen the right of acquiring, holding and disposing
of property at any place in Pakistan, subject to the reasonable
restrictions which law may impose in the matters of public interest’.
Poverty and the lack of property rights are pervasively interlinked.
The poor people do not only lack in current income, but also in assets required
to generate more income. Thousands of rural urban and the poor lack access to
land and live in informal settlements. In some cases where they have the access
to their rights and land, these may not be legally or truly recognized.
Redressing this flaw through legislative method for providing more security of
land tenure thus seems to be a way to reduce poverty. However, the apparent
solution is not as simple according to the previous experiences. Efforts of land
titling that have not considered the complexity of property rights have failed,
reducing land tenure security of poor people.
For the rural people especially, the asset of land is very critical,
as it provides a source of livelihood to them by producing and selling the
crops and other products. Property right over housing provides shelter, safety,
and a mean for accumulation to both the rural and urban poor. People who do not
have the property rights lack the authority in the place where they live and
cannot even invest there for higher return due to the lack of safety. Land can
be used as collateral for credit to invest or be exchanged to initiate another
activity for income-generation. The landless can not avail these opportunities,
that is why they often remain the poorest.
Not only land is crucial for security of food and livelihoods, it
also provides a cushion of smooth consumption the shocks. Land possessors are
able to sell or mortgage their land, to get more stability than those who are landless
and less able to sustain the average consumption level. Since the food and labor
markets are also affected by these shocks adversely, the land owners can thus
focus on their farms for food production, being self-employed. Along with their
economic significance, property rights also consummate other social functions. In
rural areas, the distribution of land is associated not only with the
prosperity of households, but also with their social status and value. Land
owners possess greater respect and a stronger sense of identity within the community
in rural areas. This position shapes access to influence in politics of
locality, in government services, in social networking and in intra-household
Apart from property rights of the household, intra-household
distribution is also very important including the differences between men and
women. The fact of the matter is that women have access to land mostly through
the men in their lives such as fathers, sons and/or husbands. And their tenure
depends on the relationship with these men. In the case of the relationship
ceasing to exist via either death, disinheritance or divorce as the case may
be, women are vulnerable to eviction and loss of land rights. Ownership of land
gives women greater bargaining power and stronger fallback options.
It needs to be seen that while numerous reports generated by the
foremost institutions working on poverty alleviation and sustainable
development in Pakistan have been insisting upon the rights of the poor,
including environmental, political, legal, women’s, collective or human rights,
there is hardly any who would take into account the importance of the property
The fact of the matter is that there is clarity on the point that
property or land is one of the most critical assets, particularly for the underprivileged
dwelling in the rural settlements as it ensures a means of livelihood for them
through the sale and cultivation of crops and other products. For the poor,
regardless of living in rural or urban areas, property rights ensure self-respect,
housing and a significant means of accumulation.
It should be noted that without having a clear title to their farms,
stores, houses or so forth, the poverty-stricken individuals cannot sell their
assets or use them as collateral for the purpose of getting loans to invest
into their land. Moreover, since mostly such assets are subject to seizure at
the whim of the revenue/tax department, assertion of ownership by the rich and
the powerful land mafia or the government, the poor always remain reluctant to
invest in improving these assets.
Besides other virtues of property rights, studies in the subcontinent
have proved them as important determinants to food entitlement, making property
rights the most essential means of breaking away from the cycle of poverty.
In terms of gender, males are females are treated differently. Majority
of the less developed countries (including Pakistan) are comprised of such social
structures where women’s access to property is limited by customs and social
norms which not only hampers their opportunities to overcome the poverty and
their economic status, but also entitles them to a lower position in terms of social
status. Land and property ownership empowers women and provides them with
income security. Without land entitlement or the right to property, women have
no recourse to assets during crises, and limited say in household decision
making, making them more prone to domestic violence.
While researching the phenomenon of the prevalent deprivation of
the rights to property entitlement among women, even though no solid study was
discovered, one does come to conclusion that the land governance system, the
system of patriarchy (which invariable excludes women from ownership of land),
and indigenous practices and customs in relation to the right to inherit
property are to be blamed.
Such deprivation is social and cultural and has nothing to do with
religion e.g. in Pakistan when it comes to giving women the right to have a
share in the family property as per Islam, the otherwise incredibly religious
society prefers to not follow the teachings of Islam. And in some cases to
deprive women of their family inheritance, either they are married to the Quran
It is high time that research and development organizations understanding
the importance of property or land in terms of their role in alleviating
poverty, plan and initiate thorough studies into the issue and conduct programs
to raise awareness and empower women to demand their right to own land.
The numerous hindrances for women to claim their right to own land
or property, and consequently to live a financially independent life, there is
a great deal of responsibility on the intelligentsia and development
organizations, research institutes along with civil society to work on many
fronts to remove these hindrances. The irony is that unlike other problems
faced by women (e.g. honor killings, etc.), deprivation of women from land and
property rights is not given much importance and nor is it considered a crime
in our society. Thus, to counter this menace the first step needs to be taken
from sensitizing society first.