|Role of Women in the Execution of Low-income Housing Projects (Habitat)|
In principle, three main types of self-help can be identified (a) individual self-help (each family works for itself); (b) mutual self-help (building by teams of families); (c) contractor built housing (construction by skilled labourers hired and paid for by individual households or groups of households). In practice, dwellings are usually built with varying combinations of the three methods. For example, families hire a bricklayer to erect the basic structure of the house and do the rest of the work themselves.
Individual self-help: The majority of women who head households work in casual jobs in the informal sector. While it is easy to take a day off work, their work is so low paid that it is difficult to forego a day's earnings. In order to maximize earnings, women in the informal sector tend to work longer hours than male wage workers, while they still have to undertake domestic labour. For women-headed households, individual self-help construction is therefore often difficult to undertake, with fixed deadlines exacerbating the problem.
Moreover, many households erect temporary shelters on their plots while constructing their house, in order to save money on rent and transportation.
As a result, not only will living conditions be uncomfortable but women will have to cope with domestic labour under particularly arduous conditions, thus reducing the time they might other wise spend on building the house.
Mutual self-help: Mutual self-help reduces building costs for individual households, as construction materials can be bought in bulk, and skills can be pooled. In this way, families can gain access to finished housing quickly. Self-help teams are generally recruited among male household members, on the assumption that it is easy to train men in construction work. This represents a significant waste of women's skill potential in house construction.
Panama: Of the 105 women forming the Panama Women's Self-Help Construction Project (WSHCP), 91 were given training in order to facilitate the construction of 100 houses in Curundu. Each training course ran for two months, and most women specialized in one area, such as masonry, plumbing or carpentry.
The women worked in groups of 8-10 supervised by an instructor, an engineer, a plumbing specialist and a site supervisor. Construction was completed in 10 months, only three months more than anticipated. Most women enjoyed the experience, aside from acquiring a feeling of self-reliance and increasing their employability (Girling et al).
However, not all group work is so harmonious, and, where men work alongside women, the potential for conflict appears to increase. In an overspill area of the Lusaka project, where construction teams were organized on a block basis, problems arose from the different contributions made by various households and various groups. Despite great constraints on women's time budgets, it appeared that men attended most of the meetings but women ended up doing most of the work (Rakodi).
Nicaragua: In 1980, one year after the establishment of the Sandinista Revolutionary Government San
Judas, a community development project started in one of the oldest and most densely populated settlement in Managua, became the target of community development. The Ministry's idea was to organize mixed work teams for self-help construction.
As men had been involved in construction work before, four men were elected to lead and train the work teams. In the initial phase, which involved clearing a large area overgrown with vegetation, the household members did the work collectively. Women were accepted as the work was similar to what they traditionally did in rural areas.
When the actual construction of houses began, men started to complain that the work brigades were not functioning and that there were too many women on the building site. They proposed that women participants should send men to represent them in the construction brigades.
This provoked an angry reaction from the female participants, and the meeting collapsed in complete disorder.
The Ministry was pressured by the men to draw up new guidelines. The new rules specified that married women were obliged to send their husbands to the building site and that single women should find a male relative to do the work for them, otherwise they would be expel led from the project.
How ever, many women had no option but to work for themselves and did not sign the new contract. The sanctions were never implemented, partly because the situation reached a stalemate, with strong cases being made by the women for not being able to get male substitutes and partly because, over time, women's confidence and active participation in all building tasks increased (Vance) .
Contractor-built houses: If mutual self-help in the construction of houses is not common, women face a particular problem, as they lack construction skills and need to hire skilled labour.
Nairobi: In the Dandora sites-and-services project, most women had little time to build their houses; they lacked construction skills and did not have male adults in the home to help them. Therefore, contractor-built housing was the main form of construction used by women, given the high minimum standards set by the authorities.
Women often helped the contractors with the heavy construction work but, despite that, were still charged high prices by the hired builders. Several women in the project suffered from theft and loss of- materials.
One woman was forced to hire three different contractors, because of cheating. The first contractor stole materials from her, and the second put in the window frames without fixing them with cement, so that he could come back and steal them during the night (Nimpuno Parente).
Individual self-help can be a slow process, and contractor-built housing is expensive. Therefore, planners could encourage the creation of mutual self-help groups in sites-and-service schemes. If women are encouraged to participate in mutual self help, they can learn skills which can increase their employability.
However, there are several problems in setting up mutual self-help groups which can achieve both speedy building and harmony between the sexes. In some cases, it seems appropriate to establish women-only building co-operatives, because:
1) It may be cheap to train women in a single-sex group, as conflicts slowing the building process are unlikely to occur, and
(2) Women do not suffer from antagonism on the part of men, which could damage their self confidence.
In other cases, it may be desirable to mix the sexes, especially if building teams are organized on a block basis within communities. Project staff members could hold consciousness-raising classes for men, in order to discuss the importance of women's role in construction. However, it is important to note that this process will take time, and therefore the single-sex group option may be appropriate if people are to be housed quickly.
(A) Fieldwork Assignment
(1) How do most people construct their dwellings in your project - through individual self-help, mutual self-help or hired labour?
(2) Is there a construction-skills training programme in your project? Have both men and women been trained?
(3) Do women participate in construction? If so, what tasks do they do?
(b) Questions for Discussion
(1) What are the problems involved in setting up mutual self-help teams?
(2) What problems would need to be confronted in order for women to participate in house construction.
(3) Would it be appropriate for women to be trained in construction skills in women-only groups or mixed groups in your project?