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close this book Daughters of Sysiphus
close this folder Overview of findings and recommendations
View the document Household distribution
View the document Occupations and education
View the document Expenditure
View the document Savings and loans
View the document Density
View the document Tenure and mobility
View the document Physical and social infrastructure
View the document The building process

The building process

When women manage the building process they are less likely to use their own physical labour than men. Whereas 42 per cent of joint heads of households and 56 per cent of male heads used their own labour in the construction of the house, this was only true of 21 per cent of the female heads.

However, women are more likely than other heads of household to mobilize construction assistance from their relatives: 47 per cent of female heads used family labour. compared with 24 per cent of Joint and 20 per cent of the male heads.

Female heads also proved more likely to employ artisans to do the work (with ail the commensurate expense). While only 11 per cent of joint heads employed an artisan, 26 per cent of female heads did so.

Male and joint heads were much more likely to call on a network of friends to assist them with 50 per cent of male heads and 38 per cent of joint heads reporting use of friends' labour. Only 15 per cent of female heads used friends to help them do the work.

To a large degree, women who build their own houses or make their own improvements carry out the role of financiers and managers of the building process. However, women have also often played a part in the physical work involved in construction as some of the stories that emerged from the case studies demonstrated.


Only 20 per cent of female-headed households had upgraded their dwelling as opposed to 24 per cent of male- and 27 per cent of joint-headed households.

Vulnerability to natural hazards

During the period this study was being written the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the region passed directly over Jamaica causing extensive damage, particularly to housing. At least 10 per cent of the housing stock was totally destroyed with a further 40 per cent being damaged extensively.

In the household survey. heads of household were asked if they had taken steps to safeguard their dwellings against hurricanes. An alarmingly small number had. The least likely to have taken steps were the female heads of household. only 7.5 per cent of whom had done anything. as opposed to 12 per cent of male- and 13 per cent of joint-headed households. Unfortunately no data are available as yet which would allow for an assessment of damage experienced by different types of household but it is likely that female-headed households will have suffered more because:

(a) They had done less to secure their houses;

(b) They are more prevalent in the rental market which has contracted severely as a result of the destruction caused by the hurricane with a corresponding escalation in rental prices. and the tendency of some landlords to delay repairs in order to force evictions.


1. Information concerning hazard-mitigation techniques that people. and women in particular, can use on their own houses should be made widely available in forms that are comprehensible and attractive to the people whose housing is most vulnerable. An example of such material is the booklet Hurricanes and Housing put out by the Construction Resource and Development Centre and the video film Strapless Today. Topless Tomorrow which was produced by the same agency.

2. A handbook on basic building techniques used in the informal sector with hints on how houses can be built more safely using recycled materials should be produced using examples and illustrations of women participating in the building process as they do in reality. All too often illustrations including women are absent from manuals, posters and handbooks focusing on building processes.

3. Training programmes that support the entry of women into the construction trades should be strongly supported. Training should not necessarily be targeted at heads of households. Their daughters might well prove more able to take advantage of the training. Programmes providing construction skills training for men should be made open to women on an equitable basis.

4. Low-income shelter-development projects that incorporate a large labour component should be designed in such a way that female labour can be absorbed as well as male. If possible, such projects should contain a training component.

5. When credit is extended for self-built housing projects, provision should be made for credit that covers the cost of labour that women without construction skills will require. Monitoring of this labour is also suggested in order to prevent exploitation by unscrupulous contractors.