|Women Constructing Their Lives: Women Construction Workers - Four Evaluative Case Studies (HABITAT, 1997, 146 p.)|
Several stereotypes exist about women and houses. In many cultures women's primary role is considered to be that of child bearers and home makers. If women are home makers then why can they not also be house builders/makers? Why is it that there are such strong prejudice against women constructing the houses of which they are the primary users?
In many traditional building practices there certainly is a role for women, as is most vividly described in the case of Ghana. Women have specific roles in traditional construction that require skills, but as soon as the modern construction techniques and patterns of employment are introduced women are nowhere to be found amongst the well paid skilled jobs. In stead, in modern construction, even in regions where traditional construction has skilled roles for women, women get work which is considered female. They sweep and clean the building site and they serve the male skilled workers by carrying the materials to them. The latter is obviously very heavy work and requires more physical strength than masonry. It seems then that such work is not assigned to women because of their physical capabilities as compared to men, but purely on the ground of socially assigned roles arising from those perceived differences. In other words, the differentiation in work between men and women on building sites occurs on the grounds of what is considered appropriate for men and women, not on the basis of capabilities. From the four cases, the sharpest differentiation of tasks along gender lines occurs in India. Women there are not considered to be able to do skilled work, so that even when they do master such skills they don't find work because they are simply not considered.
Given the continuous struggle against such strong gender stereotypes, why do women even try to enter the field of construction? Many reasons exist. If we put aside the gender stereotyping and discrimination, the building sector becomes very attractive. It is a sector that is easy to enter even for those who have little education as is often the case with women. Another reason for the easy access to the sector is the low investment required. The few tools needed to start off do not compare with the large investments required to start, for example a taxi or restaurant business. Building, even in its most modern forms, is a very local and traditional type of industry. Even on the most modern construction sites in developed regions there are always subcontractors and sub-subcontractors who operate on a small scale and rather informal manner. In the developing countries almost all construction is done by informal companies. Because women are often confined to the informal sector it would sound like an interesting type of work for them. Finally and most importantly, work in the construction sector tends to pay well compared to other jobs open to people with little education.