Cover Image
close this bookRole of Women in the Execution of Low-income Housing Projects (HABITAT, 1986, 64 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentGuidelines for the instructor:
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentChapter 1: Formulating eligibility criteria
View the documentChapter 2: Recruitment of beneficiaries
View the documentChapter 3: Settlement planning
View the documentChapter 4: Planning infrastructure
View the documentChapter 5: Planning the dwelling
View the documentChapter 6: Financing housing
View the documentChapter 7: Women and house construction
View the documentChapter 8: Self-help building groups and contractors
View the documentChapter 9: Project maintenance
View the documentChapter 10: Cost recovery
View the documentReferences

Chapter 4: Planning infrastructure

Because of their low paying capacity, residents in squatter-settlement upgrading projects and sites-and-services schemes can often only afford public water taps, pit latrines, simple roads and open drains. In view of the limited budgets, it is vital that women's priorities for basic infrastructure and services be taken into account.

First, women have been used to doing domestic work without services and, therefore, are in the best position to decide which infrastructure is most urgently needed. Secondly, women's work may be negatively affected by the introduction of new infrastructure that is inappropriate to their needs. Consultation with women ensures a fit between need and provision, on such aspects as design, technology, location and so on.

Household labour: Without adequate infrastructure, domestic labour is very heavy and can cause severe physical and emotional strain for the women. In Queretaro (Mexico) women have to work under such rudimentary conditions that their work-days are 30-40 per cent longer than those of men. In the Sahel, women have to carry water in jars on their heads; this can cause pelvic disorders and complications at child birth (IWTC, 1982).

Women usually find ways to cope with deficiencies in or absence of infrastructure and services, but these solutions are often time-consuming and tire some: women take their laundry outside the settlement to wash it in rivers or storage tanks; they dump and/or burn their garbage at great distances from their houses. This work and the lack of time prevent them from attending to all other necessary household chores and from participating in community activities.


(a) Water pumps

In many countries, women and children are the principal water bearers in the community. Water pumps introduced to provide clean water to low-income communities are, however, frequently designed for men. Women and children often break the handles of the pumps because they are unable to operate them correctly (IWTC, 1982).

(b) Garbage

In Lusaka, project planners found that most house holds threw very little garbage away. They, there fore, budgeted for shared dustbins which also made emptying easier. However, the dustbins were returned, and people insisted on individual ones (Martin). If women, as principal domestic workers, had been consulted, this situation may not have arisen.

Women are used to doing domestic work without basic services; they are, therefore, in the best position to decide which infrastructure is most urgently needed.

(c) Sanitation

Female residents in a Central American project refused to use toilets built and designed by male engineers, because a gap had been left at the bottom of the wall which exposed their feet and offended notions of privacy (IWTC, 1982). This example not only shows how women were overlooked but also demonstrates how investment can be wasted.

Decisions were made without reference to women, and, as a result, half the community failed to utilize the infrastructure.

In some countries, the provision of sanitation has an extremely low priority, because the burden of work related to hygiene falls on women and because men, unlike women, do not require the same privacy in order to perform ablutions.

In Bangladesh, women who do not have adequate private toilets may only relieve themselves before sunrise and after sunset, which can cause severe medical problems. In the slums of Bombay, low-income women are equally in need of private toilets. Otherwise they have to perform their ablutions in isolated spots in which they are particularly vulnerable to rape and molestation (Agarwal and Anand).


Services: Women's priorities for certain types of infrastructure are more important to successful shelter projects than those of men. Care should be taken to discriminate in favour of women's needs for infra structure and services. This implies:

(i) Consultation with women, both in women-only public meetings and through house-to-house visits by project staff, about service priorities, and detailed discussion of trade-offs between different types of amenities; and

(ii) Consultation about appropriate design, using sketches or, preferably, three-dimensional scale models, so that aspects, such as appropriateness of size and shape of pump handles, can be tested beforehand (if possible, project authorities should attempt to incorporate women's suggestions in the choice and design of technology).


(a) Fieldwork assignments

(1) Do men and women have different priorities with regard to the planning of infrastructure and services?

(2) How are the decisions reached in your project with regard to the kind and type of infrastructure to be provided in the settlement?

(b) Questions for discussion

(1) How could the best fit be achieved between service needs and service provision.

(2) What is the best way to ensure that women are involved in decision-making over community infrastructure and services?

(3) Is it more appropriate to integrate women in existing committees or to establish separate women's committees?