|Role of Women in the Execution of Low-income Housing Projects (Habitat)|
Community involvement in maintenance of infrastructure can considerably reduce expenditure during the cost-recovery period. To achieve this, the community has to learn how to use infrastructure such as public water taps and latrines, and how to carry out simple repairs. In addition, the residents should learn how to maintain and improve houses at low cost, as this is vital to increasing the value of plots and houses. Insufficient attention is often given to the training of women the group most likely to be in charge of upkeep and repairs.
Within low-income communities, women are the primary domestic workers and, as such, have a vested interest in keeping their settlement as hygienic and habitable as possible, even in the face of extreme hardships. The high level of commitment of women to community management in spontaneous settlements suggests that community maintenance can also be achieved in formal housing projects, provided the authorities are prepared to collaborate with women residents.
Mexico: In low-income communities in Queretaro, women's role in collecting water and treating it to ensure safety for drinking is critical.
In the absence of sewerage, women have built latrines or use the open air to defecate. The latter entails accompanying children to a suitable spot on the periphery of the settlement and providing them with water for washing their hands afterwards. Otherwise, diseases such as polio-myelitis can easily spread.
In the absence of organized garbage collection, women have to dump heavy bags at great distances from their houses, or burn garbage in an isolated spot, in order to keep their immediate environment as clean and presentable as possible.
In the absence of roads, women have to sweep and level rocky, vegetated dirt tracks. Where the settlement is on steep ground, lack of paving doubles the journey time and makes their houses dusty.
If there is no market in the area, they have to make daily trips into town. This is com pounded by the difficulties of keeping food fresh in a hot climate without adequate facilities for refrigeration. If women did not extend their working days in order to maintain living standards in their homes and communities, the welfare of many low-income households would suffer drastically (Chant, 1984).
Problems arise if women are faced with a new technology which they do not understand owing to lack of training. Given women's extensive role in making their communities as safe and comfortable as possible, it is surprising how little attention is paid to the training of women for new technology. The combination of inappropriate design and inadequate discussion with the community as to how to utilize new infrastructure often results in frequent breakdowns, as in the case of water pumps which are designed for men.
If women have been actively involved in the planning, decision-making, training and construction phases of a housing project, they are likely to assume also responsibility for the maintenance of the settlement.
Sri Lanka: In the Kirillapone upgrading project in Colombo, it was recognized that, if women received training and participated in the construction of both community services and houses, the task of maintenance would come naturally and easily to them. Women have traditionally been considered responsible for cleaning the house and environs. Maintenance of housing stock and the physical environment is considered as a neighbourhood or community task.
In Kirillapone, this was done on a regular basis through shramadana or voluntary labour. In-variably, the volunteers were women and, recently boys and girls. Had the women not been involved in the construction of houses, drains, toilets and bathing places, they might still participate in the maintenance of shelter stock, but the enthusiastic and co opting of young members of the family for what is clearly a community-oriented activity reflects the women's perception of their own investment in the community (Fernando).
Women should be involved in the maintenance of services and infrastructure introduced by project authorities for three main reasons. First, good project results will be achieved, and the settlement is unlikely to deteriorate to a slum.
Secondly, costs of renovation and repairs will be kept down, if the community uses the infrastructure correctly. Thirdly, if the women know how to carry out repairs to infrastructure and housing, this self-reliance will help to avoid delays in the repair of services and long periods without essential utilities, such as power and water.
Therefore, project authorities should focus the issue of maintenance on the main users - the women.
This could be achieved by:
(1) Recognizing that women play a central role in managing their communities, in terms of servicing and housing;
(2) Researching the work currently undertaken by women in providing services and evaluating the difficulties;
(3) Consulting with women on the design of new technology;
(4) Involving women in the construction of houses and the installation of services and infrastructure;
(5) Running training sessions on utilization of services (both inside and outside the house) for the principal users - the women;
(6) Organizing neighbourhood groups to monitor the running of services and monthly meetings to discuss maintenance problems and methods of solving them;
(7) Organizing 'repair workshops' where problems which are likely to occur can be discussed, and women can be trained in coping with different types of repair work.
(a) Fieldwork Assignments
(1) When, where and with whom was the issue of utilization and maintenance discussed when services were introduced?
(2) Who forms the target group for discussions on maintenance?
(3) Are project beneficiaries taught how to carry out repairs? If so, is training aimed at men or women?
(b) Questions for discussion
(1) What benefits can result,- from discussions with
beneficiaries about use and maintenance?
(2) Should men and women be trained to carry out repairs to community services and housing?
(3) Would it be most useful to train women in women-only or mixed groups?