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close this bookFocus on Women (HABITAT, 1991, 28 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the document“Why focus on women?”
View the documentThe Global Strategy at a glance
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentOverview from the regions
View the documentWomen and housing policy
View the documentWomen and construction
View the documentWomen and land
View the documentWomen and housing finance
View the documentCommunity participation
View the documentCommunications
View the documentRecommendations
View the documentMain actors

Women and housing policy

In the formulation of shelter policies, two aspects of participation are essential - the direct participation of women in formulating such policies and the inclusion of gender-specific considerations in policy formulation. With few exceptions, both are poorly recognized in all regions.

There are now increasing numbers of households headed by women as a result of disintegrating traditional patterns of family and kinship. Yet households headed by women are often excluded from programmes and projects simply on account of existing laws and statutes which recognize only males as heads of household.

One reason for low participation by women is the assumption that women are only potential recipients of the benefits generated in this sector, not contributors. Another reason is that shelter is often viewed merely as a physical structure accommodating a group of people - the family. Provision of shelter to the family is thus misinterpreted as being the same as meeting women’s shelter needs.

There appears to be two prevailing ways of viewing and treating urban growth:

(a) One approach views the city purely in terms of its market value and land purely as a commodity. The price of land and property taxes must be maximized at every opportunity in order to sustain municipal finances. This approach dismisses the urban poor, their informal economy and their residences as low-value occupiers of urban space;

(b) The second approach, which can be viewed as people-oriented, looks at the city in terms of its use-value, a place to live and produce. It tries to safeguard the traditional social fabric and the residential and economic activities of the informal sector. This people-oriented approach, however, is steadily losing ground to “conventional” economic analysis.

As a result of the growing reliance on the formal economic structure of the city, planning instruments such as building codes, redevelopment schemes, zoning ordinances and land-use regulations tend to further the objectives of large-scale influential businesses rather than those of poor and disadvantaged households.

The demand for urban space created by market forces has an important impact on the traditional residential-cum-working neighbourhoods inhabited by the poor. It particularly affects women who earn a large portion of their income in the informal sector as well as in home-based crafts and manufacturing activities. Removed from their traditional locations, their employment opportunities disrupted, and, their transport costs increased, the urban poor in developing countries are often impoverished by the very policies intended to benefit them.