Women, Slums, and Urbanization

For women, the phenomena of urbanization and the growth of city slums have unique causes and unique consequences. The reasons why women move into informal settlements and the specific challenges they face once they arrive have been largely unaddressed by academic scholars, policymakers, and others.  Data on women and urbanization is limited [8].

The primary “drivers” for women’s migration to the cities include issues such as violence against women, forced eviction, and the feminization of poverty, meaning the phenomenon that women represent disproportionate percentages of the world’s poor. New trends show an increasing number of females are migrating on their own and that an increasing number of women are now the principal wage earners for themselves and their families. Women move to urban areas for a number of different reasons, such as to seek higher income, to flee conflict, to avoid environmental degradation, or to escape family problems, especially problems resulting from discrimination. These problems may also include coping with health-related problems, such like HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Women may also be isolated and financially destitute. Many hope for a quick acquisition of resources but this may be difficult for women with very limited resources and job skills. Many women end up in urban slums where they can be close to commercial areas and work opportunities [9].

For women living in informal settlements, housing and living conditions are especially harsh. Close to one third of the world’s women are homeless or live in inadequate housing and in many countries, a majority of homeless women have escaped from domestic violence [10].

Women and men should have equal rights to own, access and control over land and property, according to the international human rights (e.g. the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Voluntary Guidlines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure) and national legislation of several countries. However, male-oriented practices and governance may imply that women’s security of tenure depends on their relation with male partners and family members (husbands, fathers, sons or extended family members). If or when the relation between the woman and that male figure is broken, such as in the case of divorce or death, women may become vulnerable due to through unfair distribution of assets, psychological or physical abuse, threats or other forms of discrimination and harassment. In many cases, they are forced to leave their homes and move to informal settlements. Women living in informal settlements are even less likely to have recognized land and property rights.

Patrimonial violence against women is often reported, including psychological and sexual abuse. However, due to the lack of alternative of urban shelter (e.g. emergency shelter, and affordable housing), many women may be forced to continue to live under the same roof with as the aggressor. This is not uncommon in overcrowded housing units shared by several families.

Women living in slums usually work in the informal sectors of the economy and tend to be the lowest income earners and lack job security and benefit, such as health insurance and retirement schemes. This financial gap tends to widen. Since women are usually responsible for taking care of the house, children, elderly and the ill or disabled relatives, women tend to have less physical and socio-political autonomy. Given many women’s informal and usually unstable sources of income, they often lack access to credits, loans and mortgages, either to seek their security of tenure and improve their houses or to improve their working conditions. Informal work conditions may also push women into less formal rental arrangements, often times for higher prices, and without adequate infrastructure or clean water [11].

Women are also under-represented in political and participatory processes of formulation and implementation of policies and programs. In some countries, even when women utilize accountability mechanisms, such as the justice system, they face severe discrimination [12].

In the urban planning and design field, for instance, “there is a tendency to view urban planning as gender-neutral field, not shaped by or in the interest of a particular sex. This assumes that both sexes are affected equally. In reality, what is ‘gender-neutral’ usually has a male perspective and is in men’s interest. The exclusion of women from urban planning means women’s daily lives and perspectives do not shape urban form and function. In other words, city planning as such overlooks the specific challenges and concerns that women and girls face, underlining the fact that the city is not inclusive and equitable in its design, infrastructure, facilities, and services ” [13].

In sum, there is an increasing recognition of women’s disproportionate struggle to fulfill their right of adequate housing living in cities and, in particular, their security of tenure. Women are the worst affected in forced evictions, resettlement schemes, slum clearance, domestic violence, civil conflict, discriminatory inheritance laws and practices, development projects, and globalization policies. Violence, rape, and sexual assault are sometimes used to forcibly remove women from their homes before and during forced evictions.

Focusing on women’s security of tenure is key to overcoming unequal ownership, access and control over property, domestic violence and disproportionate violence against women in cases of forced eviction from conflict, natural disasters, or large-scale land acquisitions.

Image: UN-Habitat (Julius Mwelu)

Source: Equal Rights for Women Worldwide

This article is culled from daily press coverage from around the world. It is posted on the Urban Gateway by way of keeping all users informed about matters of interest. The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and in no way reflects the opinion of UN-Habitat.