AMONG THE POOREST
Martin P. Brockerhoff, “An Urbanizing World”, Population Bulletin, Vol. 55, No. 3, September 2000, www.prb.org
In slums and shanty settlements all over the world, it is women who bear the burden of raising children under the most difficult of conditions…
- it is women who walk miles every day to get clean water – an average of 3 miles – carrying on their heads an average of 20 kilos (about 45 pounds) of water every day;
- it is women who are constantly under threat of eviction, having no secure home for themselves and their families;
- it is women who endure the indignities and dangers of unhygienic toilets, shared by hundreds; women who are the most vulnerable to crime and violence; women who are inordinately affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, as both victims and caregivers (women - and the children that they care for - are the worst victims of infectious diseases in slums).
Where housing is sub-standard, such as in slums and informal urban settlements, it is women who suffer most from environmental degradation and lack of essential services…
- because of their lower incomes, women have narrower housing choices and are usually excluded from holding title to land, either through legal means or cultural traditions.
- human settlements planning, development and management are male dominated because the fields involved are traditionally perceived as not suited to women;
- globally, one out of every four countries in the developing world have constitutions or national laws which prevent women from owning land and/or taking mortgages in their own names. Customary or legal constraints to women owning land or property are highest in Africa, the Arab States, Asia and Latin America.
- in Africa, approximately 50% of rural households are headed by women as men move to towns seeking employment opportunities. Even in urban areas, women headed households are increasingly high especially in slums (about 30%). In both rural and urban areas, women headed households are among the poorest;
- these women must take care of their children and run their households, making them generally less mobile than men. They are also usually less educated than men, and these realities combine to limit their income-earning opportunities. As a result, women-headed households generally suffer more from poverty, malnutrition and disease;
- in some African cities, slums are a refuge for women who are fleeing difficult situations created by divorce or marriage and property inheritance disputes;
- in Asia, lack of access and control over land has many negative impacts for women. Eviction of residents of informal settlements is the most dramatic manifestation of the fight for land and the position of the poor. In the case of evictions women suffer in particular as they bare responsibility for finding new shelter both for themselves and for their children and extended families. At the same time, the majority of Asian women have no access to housing or credit facilities;
- in Latin America, the increased emphasis on market forces has led to growing land speculation and to increasing land prices in major cities. These land prices and subsequently rents have tended to increase while the real incomes of the middle and low-income groups fall. This results into intra urban movement - i.e. a flight of population from the inner city areas to the urban periphery, which fuels the growth of illegal settlements. The urban poor, women in particular, cannot afford even the most modest plots. The only alternative for them is the unauthorised occupation of land without services and self-construction of makeshift housing.
Future slum policies should address the need for greater security of tenure and enhance the housing rights of the poor, with specific provisions for poor women…
- in March 1999, an agreement was signed by the government and civil society organisations in Bolivia, regarding “Women and Land Security”. This was done in response to both the International Convention on the Elimination of all Discrimination Against Women and article 6 of the political constitution of Bolivia. This has given political space for women to exercise their right to legal security of tenure; (1)
- Mexico has explicit policies to facilitate equal access to employment for women. Housing schemes in that country consider gender equality as one of the main priorities both in the purchase of houses and in access to credit. Special programmes have been created in order to ensure better education, health and employment opportunities for women;
- in Brazil, one NGO specialised in helping women who are either micro-entrepreneurs or production agents for the formal and informal markets: The Women's Bank (Banco da Mulher), is associated with an international financial network.
(1) ECLAC, 2000, The Challenge of Gender Equity and Human Rights on the Threshold of the Twenty-First Century, LC/L.1295(CRM.8/3). P 2-6.