|Women in Human Settlements Development - Getting the Issues Right (HABITAT, 1995, 60 p.)|
Is there adequate information on women in shelter development?
The answer unfortunately is, No. There exists little useful information on the roles, needs and contributions of women in shelter development. This is partly because not enough appropriate research has been done in this area, and women remain invisible in many research findings. Equally important is the fact that policy-makers and project managers do not make use of the little useful information that exists. Womens views, needs and contributions are often neglected in policy formulation and implementation, not just because of lack of information, but also because of lack of concern about the situation of women.
Poor planning is often the result of inadequate information on the roles and needs of women.
Women, on their part, lack essential information on shelter development such as policies, projects, credit facilities and opportunities. As a result they miss out on the few possibilities available to them. This is partly due to the fact that information about some of these policies, projects and credit facilities has not been widely distributed and publicized. Another reason why women lack information is that many women live in isolation and poverty, many are illiterates and cannot obtain information from the print media and they are often too poor to own a radio or television set.
Fortunately, some steps are being taken to improve information gathering and sharing, and the interaction between policy-makers, women and men, by some international organizations, NGOs and community-based organizations. However, national public-sector institutions generally are lagging behind in this area.
Why is more awareness on women in shelter development needed?
Women, more than any other member of the family, spend a lot of time in the home and it is only fair that their views and needs he taken into account, particularly in designing houses and other services. It is now acknowledged that official policies and programmes on shelter development cannot succeed without the full participation of women. Women cannot participate fully unless they have access to information on policies, projects and other entitlements. In a study in Paraguay, 50 per cent of the women interviewed mentioned lack of information as the main reason for not improving their housing conditions and only 16 per cent of the men mentioned lack of information.
Lack of information leads to women missing out on the few opportunities that exist for them.
Womens roles, needs, views and contributions are crucial to the effective formulation and implementation of appropriate gender-sensitive policies, programmes and projects. Otherwise policy-makers will continue to make plans based on inaccurate, gender-blind information. A documented example is that of Ibn Khalkdoun, a squatter-upgrading project in Tunisia. Because of lack of awareness and concern policy-makers decided to build modern-style houses resulting in reduction of internal space, which is very important in the particular culture where women have to spend most of their time indoors. The house design gave rise to mental depression and, in some cases, suicide among the women. If the women had been consulted about their needs, this situation would not have arisen. Another example is that of policy-makers in Boa Vista, Brazil who, lacking awareness of the different family structures of the target population, made a ruling that applicants for housing loans could only be fathers of at least two children. This immediately excluded 43 per cent of the target population made up women-headed households. Unfortunately these kinds of mistakes may be repeated elsewhere if this kind of information is not publicized and if policy-makers are not sensitive to womens concerns.
What has been done to facilitate information-sharing and gender-awareness in shelter development?
Some progress is being made. In 1988, UNCHS (Habitat) organized five separate regional seminars aimed at improving communication about the participation of women in human settlements. Support communication materials for use in training were developed and disseminated. These training programmes were aimed at highlighting the role of information and communication in enhancing the role of women in shelter development. The participants were policy-makers in government, and NGOs working with women. The seminars, and many follow-up workshops and forums, are slowly contributing to the development of gender-awareness among policy makers in shelter development.
Womens news networks and folk media involvement in shelter issues needs more support and publicity.
The Women in Human Settlements Development Programme of UNCHS (Habitat) has run a number of gender-awareness workshops for men and women in government, NGOs, and grassroots and research organizations, so that they become gender-sensitive in their work.
Women are creating their own media in which they determine the information and issues to be disseminated. Information and news networks, such as Her Say in the United States, Agence Femme Information in France, and the Caribbean Womens Features Syndicate, have been created to disseminate information on women. Much more relevant information on women in shelter development comes from newsletters that are specifically concerned with gathering and disseminating information on women and shelter. The Habitat International Coalition Women and Shelter Newsletter is one example. At the grassroots level, women are using dance and drama, puppet shows, music, slides, video films and sound tapes to enhance gender-awareness and inform other women about development projects and facilities. For example, Sistren, the Jamaican all-women theatre, is using theatre to examine and comment on the role of women in development and their experiences in the ghetto. The Amauta Association of Cusco, Peru, was formed by women who participated in shelter building but were denied access to the decision-making body by men. They developed their own audio-visual materials to formulate solutions to their problems.
The Southern Africa Peoples Dialogue on Land and Homelessness uses talking newsletters, audio-cassettes that contain information and discussions on poor communities shelter issues.
In order to improve womens access to information, adult literacy programmes have been started in most developing countries by NGOs, government agencies and other community-based organizations. In Egypt, for example, 70 per cent of the audience for radio literacy courses are women.
What are some of the obstacles to information sharing and gender-awareness in shelter development?
Lack of gender-awareness on the part of some of the policy-makers in the media and in institutions making policies on shelter development is a big disadvantage. The policy-makers, who are mostly men, decide on the information to be collected and disseminated. A lot of the information is gender-blind. Even in developed countries, few programmes are devoted to homelessness and other issues related to shelter development. Serious issues like shelter are not usually scheduled in prime time on television or radio nor are they given the front page coverage in the print media.
Innovative media have been used to reach illiterate audiences...adult literacy programmes are also important.
About 40 per cent of women in the world are illiterate and cannot read about policies and projects on shelter development. Even those who can read have problems understanding the technical language used in documents on shelter development. In Asia, less than 5 per cent of women have access to television, while in Africa the proportion is less than 1 per cent. The talking newsletters mentioned earlier could be an interesting medium to use in such a situation, as well as more radio programmes.
What needs to be done?
Women researchers and professionals should carry out surveys to provide information and statistics on womens roles, needs, views and contributions in shelter development which should be made available for use by policy-makers and project managers working in government, international organizations and NGOs.
Training workshops to promote gender-awareness of both women and men decision-makers in shelter development, like those run by the Women in Human Settlements Development Programme, should be extended to include some men and women from the popular media.
Adult literacy programmes for both women and men should be promoted to enable women to read newspapers, official documents, advertisements of new projects and available facilities on shelter development. Community-based organizations could be encouraged to buy radios to be shared by their members.
Women can have more influence over the media through more training and networking.
Women-controlled media should collect and disseminate information on women in shelter development. Information on shelter projects and programmes should be announced on radio, at churches, markets and community meetings, schools as well as mother-and-baby clinics in residential areas. Drama and songs can also be used to inform both women and men about issues in shelter development. Social workers and extension officers can visit the potential beneficiaries in their homes. More female project workers should be used to enhance womens participation.