|Role of Women in the Execution of Low-income Housing Projects (Habitat)|
Planning the dwelling is an important area for user participation in low-income housing projects. In some cases, the design of the house is the responsibility of the individual family which builds its own house within certain guidelines set out by project and with technical and financial assistance provided by the project staff. In other cases, residents must either build according to one of a number of type plans considered feasible and acceptable by the authorities or add incrementally to core-units designed and built by the project.
House standards: In most squatter-settlement upgrading projects, allottees are given freedom to build or improve their houses in the way they wish; the project authorities merely administer the technical and financial assistance. The allottees will be in a position to build a better type of house than before and one that still accords with their needs and priorities.
In most sites-and-service schemes, the beneficiaries are given a set period of time to construct a dwelling which meets certain standards set by the project - the rationale behind this being that low-cost shelter projects aim to encourage participants to live in good conditions and not to transform the settlement into a slum.
Minimum standards which have to be achieved within specified time limits make the construction of houses both expensive and time-consuming for allot tees and, therefore, may cause problems for women headed households. Minimum standards mean that beneficiaries can no longer use cheap construction materials, such as recycled scrap and industrial throwaway, or indigenous materials, such as bamboo and mud. Families may have to hire professional labour, if they do not have the time or skills to construct the prescribed house on a self-help basis.
El Salvador: In the World Bank housing programme in Santa Ana? women did not have sufficient income to hire skilled labour to complete their houses and did not have the time to build the houses themselves within the set period, as loss of time at work implied a loss of earnings. There was no satisfactory solution without radically restructuring the project and organizing special assistance to women, such as paying a stipend during construction (Lycette and Jaramillo) .
Furthermore, housing standards drawn up without reference to the culture and lifestyle of the community involved may be totally impracticable and destroy the delicate fabric of social relations. The following case study shows how an attempt to improve housing conditions without prior consultation with the community was detrimental to the lives of the target group it aimed to help.
Tanzania: The 'Petter Housing Campaign' was initiated as an attempt to persuade people to replace their traditional houses, built of local materials such as palm leaves and mangrove poles, with durable dwellings having corrugated iron roofs and concrete floors.
Traditional housing is well adapted to local customs in which the autonomy and the need for privacy of individual family members are important values. Household members build temporary shacks near cultivable land, so that they can live off the land independently of the rest of the family. Divorced women, instead of going back to their parents, often build a house of their own.
By forcing people to use imported materials, the campaign raised the costs of housing. As a result, it was difficult for family members to live independently. Families were forced to live as an integrated unit without privacy and autonomy. This affected all house-old members, but women particularly. They lost much of their traditional autonomy (Caplan).
Housing design: In order to facilitate the construction of the dwelling, project staff usually prepare a number of house designs from which the allottees can choose.
If the allottee wishes to build a different type of house, he or she has to submit a plan to the local authorities to obtain a building permit. This costs time and money and thus puts women-headed house holds in a particularly disadvantaged position, as they are often unable to apply for permission to build their preferred house.
Discussions between project staff and the community should take place on the social, financial and technical aspects of house design at the earliest possible stage. Otherwise, the house may be totally inappropriate for the main users.
Ecuador: In Guayaquil, women from a squatter settlement preferred to live in their self-built split bamboo houses rather than in brick houses in a World Bank project, which were half the size of the squatter houses. The women declared it a nightmare to have to bring up children in such a confined space, particularly given the tropical climate in the city (Moser, 1985).
Tunisia: The Ibn Khaldoun housing project in Tunis offers a wide range of units from basic core housing to comparatively elaborate three bedroom dwellings. Surveys showed that women were dissatisfied with the house design.
Their main problem was space, specifically the small size of the inner courtyard (Resources for Action, 1982b).
In some cities, such as Tunis, women's need for internal space is critical, as their life is almost entirely confined to the house. Pressure on land, insensitivity to women's needs for private space and a middle-class aspiration to own European-style houses often result in a reduction of the inner courtyard area. In some cases, this has led to psychological depression, neuroses and even suicide among women.
In cities where women's lives are restricted, the characteristics of the dwelling acquire great significance. Plot sizes cannot easily be increased in these kinds of settlements, but scope exists to change land use patterns in future projects. One solution would be to reduce public space and to increase courtyard space. Another could be to reduce street width and build several units with modest individual courtyards around a large communal space which would somehow have to be made inaccessible to men.
India: The Ahmedabad Study and Action Group (ASAG) implemented a government-funded resettlement programme and invited women to discuss the layout of the houses and the neighbourhood.
Women placed high priority on private bathing facilities and made suggestions regarding the location of facilities for cooking, the collection and storage of water etc. Most of their suggestions were acted upon and improved the utility of the house design (Singh).
Lack of awareness about the needs of women is manifest not only on the part of project authorities but also within the household itself.
Mexico: In squatter settlements in Queretaro, women attached great importance to a spacious, well-built brick kitchen. This prevented food and utensils from getting dirty from dust blowing in from unpaved roads, in a situation where while constant cleaning was difficult because water had to be fetched from great distances. In addition, a large kitchen allowed them to combine their domestic duties with supervising young children.
However, in many families, the kitchen consisted of a corrugated iron lean to, while other rooms, such as bedrooms, were consolidated first, indicating that women's demands were accorded low priority (Chant, 1985b).
Income generation: In housing design, planners rarely pay attention to the need for women to earn an income at home.
This may lead to house designs which are in appropriate for cottage industry or renting. Space and layout suitable for commercial activities obviously vary according to type of work. Women may wish to run a shop from their front room, in which case a large front room with plenty of storage space and power points for electrical items, such as a refrigerator, would be desirable. In hot climates, women may need a large verandah, in order to combine such activities as sewing, cottage industry or selling sweets with looking after their own or their neighbours' children.
Nicaragua: Women in the San Judas project in Managua expressed a preference for space outside their houses. In the rural areas from which the women migrated tending gardens is women's work and is an important component of family subsistence. In accordance with women's wishes for garden space, only 20 per cent of the plot area was built upon, leaving the rest of the land free for small-scale cultivation and future development (Vance).
House standards: Planners should recognize that, if they introduce high standards and time limits on house construction, many women-headed households are likely to drop out of the project, as they cannot meet these requirements. It would be wise to waive minimum standards and time limits for women-headed house holds. At the same time, it nay be necessary to ensure that women in pale-headed households do not suffer from unwillingeness on the part of male breadwinners to invest in housing.
Subgroups could be identified within the target population, on the basis of level and regularity of income, number of dependents etc. Each subgroup should have its own standards with regard to time limits for the completion of the house and the type of materials it is allowed to use.
Housing design: Women are the primary consumers of housing on two counts. First, they are responsible for house maintenance and sanitation. Secondly, they often are more or less restricted to the house and some times need specific privacy. In order to satisfy the main beneficiaries, project authorities must take into account women's needs and preferences which are often culture-specific. Surveys, discussions and observations of what women's work entails would greatly improve project success rates.
Economic activities: Permission for economic activities, such as shop keeping and renting of rooms, would (a) allow women to combine economic activities with their domestic roles, (b) allow families to increase their total income, (c) provide women with a source of independent income, and (d) lead to a housing solution for female-headed households who cannot afford to buy land or property (Lycette and Jaramillo).
Meetings: The design process should develop through dialogue with the community over a period of time. Designs could initially be devised on the basis of extensive discussions with female project participants and subsequently presented to the community as a whole so that further adjustments can be made.
Small-group discussions allow for the best interaction with women, as large-scale meetings tend to be dominated by male leaders
(a) Fieldwork Assignments
(1) What type of house (design, standard etc.) is preferred by women in your project?
(2) Describe the consultation process relating to house design in your project. To what extent were women consulted?
(3) How many households in your projects have small businesses and/or renters in their houses?
(b) Questions for Discussion
(1) Describe the ways in which satisfactory levels of family investment in housing might be achieved.
(2) How could a house design best be adapted to women's needs? How could women be included in consultations about house design?
(3) How would you encourage the development of renting and income-generating activities in the house?