|Women in Human Settlements Development - Getting the Issues Right (HABITAT, 1995, 60 p.)|
The following questions were part of the original World Habitat Day 1993 kit and were meant for discussion in various peoples forums. They are included here for discussion groups, training programmes and seminars on the subject of women in human settlements development.
Women are disadvantaged with regard to access to good, secure housing, as well as safe and clean neighbourhoods. At the same time, they bear an inordinately heavy burden in providing their families with food, personal care and clean homes. They are also active in organizations that are engaged in improving communities and neighbourhoods. This often means hard work for women for almost no tangible rewards.
Imagine what life would be like without mothers, sisters, wives, the neighbourhood womens group that runs the water kiosk? Difficult to imagine!
Here are some questions that can be thought about in our homes, schools and universities, religious meetings, neighbourhood organizations, local municipal-ides, villages and national Parliaments. If they are given serious consideration, people may begin to be more appreciative and supportive of what women are doing to sustain villages, towns, cities and countries. They might also help change any stereotyped views people may have of women as just mothers, home-makers, seamstresses etc. What about women architects, city planners, engineers, and so forth?
Although some answers have been provided, these are by no means the only ones. They are just a help to get started!
Information and networking
What measures can be taken to improve research, documentation and dissemination of information on women and shelter development?
By actively involving women in gathering data on womens shelter concerns, using professional and grassroots women. This has already been tried with very interesting results. It needs to be more widely applied. The data thus collected should be used in policy and planning as well as in designing courses and learning materials for, say, urban planners.
By disaggregating data so that the true situation of women and men is easily discernible.
What can be done to improve womens access to information on housing and credit opportunities, and human settlements issues in general, especially since women form the majority of the illiterate?
Media - both folk and modern - are already being used to communicate the local concerns of women. However, it has not been used enough for housing and shelter issues. Some community shelter networks use talking newsletters (audio cassettes) to surmount the literacy barrier.
Study tours and exchange visits have proved to be useful means of gaining first-hand information. Even visiting a group in a neighbouring district can be quite inspiring.
What is understood by gender-sensitive or gender-aware programmes?
- Programmes for women?
- Programmes with special components for women?
- Programmes that take account of everybodys needs and contributions, including men and women, boys and girls.
The last answer is the correct one. What projects or programmes in your municipality or country are gender-sensitive?
Housing: policy, planning, management and design.
Why should there be an emphasis on better shelter for women?
· Currently they are disadvantaged in this area. Women form a large proportion of the population of poor communities, where housing and services are inadequate at present. Womens housing concerns are largely ignored at the national policy-making level, and are therefore unrecognized and unplanned for.
· Nearly one third of the worlds households are headed by women. They spend more time in the house than any other family member. Many women conduct economic activities in the house.
· Governments need to ensure that women and men, especially the poor, meet their basic needs in housing, which include services like water, sanitation, waste disposal, transport, schools, clinics, markets, shopping centres and recreation facilities.
· All human resources - including those of women - need to be tapped for shelter development.
· The urban population is rising rapidly; it is estimated that nearly half of the worlds population will live in urban centres by the year 2000.
· Poor urban households often live in worse housing conditions than poor rural households. Women form the majority in this group.
· Many women are forced into urban or peri-urban concentrations due to traditional lack of access to rural land, war, disasters and an inability to make a living in the rural areas.
What are the consequences of planning cities, towns and settlements without involving women?
House designs are inappropriate. For example, kitchens and working areas are too small.
Community facilities such as schools, parks, health and shopping centres are inappropriately located.
Low-income neighbourhoods are designed in a way that does not allow women to work in or around the home. This is reinforced by zoning regulations that prohibit commercial activity in residential areas.
Food-growing is either prohibited or unplanned for.
What are the consequences when there are no women in local authorities?
Womens informal sector employment is outlawed.
Waiting lists for council rental housing give priority to families, which are often assumed to be male-headed.
Public home-ownership projects also define families in the same way.
Womens personal safety is not taken into account when locating recreational areas, distributing public lighting, bus stops and other amenities.
Finance for housing
How do most women in poor communities finance their shelter?
Through personal savings and informal loans from relatives and friends. Many women form savings and credit cooperatives.
What are some of the main problems that women face in obtaining credit from conventional financial institutions?
Financial institutions do not like to give small loans, which are often what women want. Many women have low, irregular incomes and therefore do not qualify for loans because they cannot give an assurance about repayment.
In some countries, women can only borrow on the strength of a male relatives signature.
What are some of the ways in which women can be assisted to acquire credit in a form that is most convenient to them?
Women are already forming savings and credit cooperatives. More support can be given to these groups, especially in their income-generating activities.
Revolving funds can be set up from which such groups can borrow.
NGOs can intervene with banking institutions on behalf of women.
How best can communities in general - and women in particular - be supported in their efforts to improve their dwellings, services and immediate surroundings?
- Helping them form self-help groups like cooperatives, womens groups, associations and savings clubs;
- Strengthening their self-help efforts on matters concerning land acquisition, credit, building construction and maintenance;
- Encouraging networking among community groups, non-governmental organizations, public and private shelter agencies, polytechnics, universities and government bodies.
How can one ensure that shelter is environment friendly?
- Construct dwellings using materials that have no toxic effects.
- Cut down on the use of energy by taking full advantage of prevailing climatic conditions like sunlight.
- Use water carefully.
- Recycle waste.
How can housing be designed to reduce indoor pollution caused by smoky cooking fires, which affects the eyes and respiratory tracts of millions of women and children world-wide each year?
- Use of fuel-efficient kitchen appliances;
- Assisting women to make appropriate technologies for cooking on a do-it-yourself basis;
- Funding projects where local artisans can produce such technologies cheaply;
- Improving ventilation by increasing the size of openings to kitchens;
- Designing kitchens in consultation with women. Several NGOs working in poor neighbourhoods are already doing this.
Land and property
Why is land so critical in shelter development, especially for women?
- May be used as collateral to get a loan to buy or improve
- Can provide security for women and their children;
- May serve as a saving which appreciates over time;
- Women are currently denied land for various reasons.
How can women be assisted to surmount the existing traditional and legal barriers that prevent them from owning land and other property like housing?
- Forming pressure groups to advocate for womens property rights;
- Educating women on these rights;
- Providing girls with formal education and improving womens literacy levels in order to raise awareness on their rights;
- Legislating on issues hampering womens right to property. This includes reviewing customary and religious laws vis a vis national or state law.
What can governments do to make land available to women in poor communities and other low-income members of society?
- Earmark state land for them.
- Set up site-and-service schemes, and make sure womens needs are specifically addressed.
- Set up community land trusts.