|Women in Human Settlements Development - Getting the Issues Right (HABITAT, 1995, 60 p.)|
Housing, the living environment and womens health
2.4 billion people, representing 48 per cent of worlds population, live in urban areas. According to 1990 estimates, 37 per cent of the developing worlds population lived in urban areas. About one third of this group lives in informal settlements with poor housing and inadequate or no services.
In terms of health, women and children are the most severely affected by poor housing and living environments.
It is estimated that at least 600 million people living in urban areas of developing countries live in what might be termed life - and health-threatening homes and neighbourhoods. Women and children are the most severely affected by this situation, since they spend the most time at home. For example, an estimated 70 million women and children world-wide suffer from severe indoor pollution from cooking fires, giving rise to respiratory and other health problems.
The World Health Organization estimates that if all housing could be brought to a minimum acceptable standard, there would be 5 million fewer deaths and 2 million fewer permanent disabilities annually on a global basis.
After food, housing is the largest item of poor a familys expenditure. Many such families are headed by women. When income declines, the food and health budgets suffer, leading to malnutrition, early childhood deaths and reduced productivity.
Every day some 50,000 people, mostly women and children, die as a result of poor shelter, polluted water and inadequate sanitation. It is estimated that one in four of the worlds population does not have access to clean drinking water and that in many developing countries, about 50 per cent of the urban population do not have water within 200 metres of their dwellings.
Water and services: the womans burden
Some 32 per cent of the population of developing countries has no access to safe drinking water. In the least developed countries, this figure goes up to 53 per cent and in sub-Saharan Africa, it is as high as 59 per cent. Some countries such as Congo have as much as 80 per cent of the population lacking access to safe water.
Providing readily available clean water reduces the burden for women and girls, and increases the time women have for productive work as well as leisure.
The poor very often pay more for water than the rich, through informal, often unsafe supplies. For example in Nairobi, Kenya, residents of informal settlements pay water vendors 5-10 times more per unit what other residents pay to the city authorities. This is a common pattern in many cities in developing countries.
In situations where there is no water, normally it is women and older girls who have to provide it. Medical research has documented cases of permanent damage to womens health directly attributed to carrying water - among them spinal and pelvic deformities, and degenerative rheumatism. More immediate problems include exposure to water-borne diseases, chronic fatigue and the threat of miscarriage for pregnant women.
In some parts of rural Africa where women may expend as much as 85 per cent of their daily energy intake fetching water, 40 per cent of non-pregnant and 63 per cent of pregnant women are anaemic. The incidence and severity of anaemia increase during the dry season.
Access to health facilities is equally limited, 37 per cent of pregnant women in developing countries have no access to pre-natal care, and the figures for child health services are not much better.
The Socio-economic status of the invisible majority
It is estimated that worldwide 33 per cent of all households are headed by women. Death of a husband, war, large-scale displacement and labour migration as well as single motherhood result in women-headed households. For example, it is estimated that 70-80 per cent of refugees worldwide are women and children. In some Southern African countries, as much as 50 per cent of rural households are headed by women as a result of men moving to towns in search of jobs, often not sending enough money home. Women-headed households represent a high proportion of households in informal settlements, and are among the poorest.
The relative disadvantage of women needs to be recognized and addressed. A first step is to ensure womens visibility in statistics.
In 1990, the Human Development Report or UNDP introduced the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI combines life expectancy, educational attainment and income indicators to give a composite measure of human development. However, subsequent Human Development Reports (1992,1993) point out that the HDI per se does not reflect the inequalities between various groups in any one country. The most striking inequality, especially in developing countries, is the gender inequality. The female HDI is less than two thirds the male HDI in many countries.
Women, a majority of the worlds population, receive only a small share of developmental opportunities. Even though females comprise more than 50 per cent of the worlds population, they own only 1 percent of the worlds wealth. They are often excluded from education, from the better jobs, and from political systems.
In education, women still lag far behind men, especially in developing countries. Female literacy rates are low: 20 to 50 per cent of male levels.
In higher education, the disparities are even more stark. Female enrolment ratios in higher education in developing countries are typically only half the male ratios. In sub-Saharan Africa, womens enrolment rates for tertiary education are only a third of those of men. Even in industrialized countries, women we poorly represented in scientific and technical study: in Spain, the ratio of female to male third-level students in these fields is 28 per cent, in Austria 25 per cent and in Canada 29 per cent.
Lack of education is partly responsible for womens disadvantage in the world of work and in political life. Women are much less likely to be employed than men, and working women are lower paid than men. In all industrial countries, womens wages are significantly lower. In Belgium and France, they earn about three quarters of the average male wage, and in Japan only about half. Female unemployment levels are typically about one-and-a-half times male levels. As for decision-making centres of business and government, men continue to dominate. Even in countries where womens representation is relatively high - such as Finland, Norway and Sweden - women account for only a third of the legislators. In developing countries, the figures range from 0 - 14 percent.
However, in many countries and areas of life, even these kinds of comparisons are not easy to make because the data on women do not exist. Thus the contributions that women make to development, and the discrimination against them, are equally hidden.
Finally, it is necessary to think of these and other statistics individually, and in combinations. For example: think of a woman who is poor, under-nourished and probably anaemic; who has to carry water over a long distance; who gets water from a polluted source; has to walk a long distance for pre-natal care and immunization for her children; lives in a house with no proper sanitary facilities; who has to earn an income but has no access to child-care facilities... Then one begins to nurse an idea about why it is necessary to focus specifically on women.
International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women
Adopted in 1979 by United Nations General Assembly resolution 34/180 on 18 December 1979, entered into force on 3 September 1981; 125 States Parties as of September 1993. State compliance with the Convention is monitored by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Article 14(2) states:
State Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, that they participate in and benefit from rural development and, in particular, shall ensure to such women the right... to enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply, transport and communications. International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.
This 1979 convention refers to only rural women. International agenda have continued to inadequately address urban poverty and to ignore the urban woman.