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Africa, as a region, has an extremely high rate of urbanisation simultaneously taking place in countries which are by and large ill prepared for it.  This has contributed to rapid environmental degradation and poor economic and social conditions. 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 the informal settlements.  In both rural and urban areas, women headed households are among the poorest.

Women receive only a small share of developmental opportunities and  are often excluded from education, better jobs and political systems. This imbalance lead to women’s disadvantage in social, economic and political life. Human settlements planning, development and management are male dominated because the fields involved are traditionally perceived as not suited to women.

Land and property ownership for women is another area where many Africa countries have neither laws nor clear guidelines for dealing with traditional discrimination against women, even while declaring equality for all. By and large women have no access to land and property ownership. This is compounded customs, traditional practices and ignorance of their rights which deters them from even attempting to make claims. Illiteracy especially among women slows learning and hampers participation in housing development.  Men are assumed to be the head of the household and own all the property.

Tremendous hurdles notwithstanding, women do find strength and are determined to improve or change their status in society through collaboration with organisations such as those that make up the HIC-WAS network. Below are examples of efforts by HIC-WAS member organisations:

The establishment of GRIBTO (Grassroots Initiatives Brought Together), Kenya was prompted by the desire to bridge the conspicuous gap between development policy formation and implementation at grassroots level.  The need for Kenyan grassroots based NGOs and CBOs to forge an alliance became clear was given new urgency during the Human Settlement meeting in Nairobi in April 1997.  GRIBTO’s major areas of interest include:

  • Organisations/groups/agencies involved in development related activities with a special emphasis on sustainable human settlements.
  • Vulnerable groups (poorest of the poor, female-headed households, children in difficult circumstances and people with disabilities).

GRIBTO’s areas of integrated action include sustainable human settlements, poverty alleviation, environmental issues and rehabilitation of vulnerable populations.  The overall objective is to exchange experiences and identification of innovative approaches in order to create a dynamic network committed to sustainable development.

Advocacy programmes by WAT (Women Advancement Trust). WAT is an NGO, which has played a big role in campaigning for equal land rights in Tanzania. In 1992, a baseline survey was conducted in Dar es Salaam and Dodoma to measure women’s economic and social status and their accessibility to services and infrastructure, land and shelter. The objective of the survey was to see if shelter regulations are discriminative to women and how they participate in social groups and organisations. In 1995, through its Chief Executive who was also a Member of Parliament, WAT convinced Parliament to make a correction in Chapter 4, Section 4.2.6 of the Land Policy. In 1996, WAT organised a brainstorming meeting of the campaign on land rights to women. This meeting and other efforts thereafter, led to the official launching of the Land Rights Campaign in 1997 on International Women’s Day (March 8). WAT then organised a number of awareness raising workshops on land rights the  proceedings of which formed the basis of the Land Rights Campaign action plan.

These and other efforts resulted in the passing by Parliament of a new Land Law in 1999. The law gives women legal rights to land ownership. The law, which grew out of the new land policy has implications for positive impacts on poverty reduction among poor women. Among other things it includes the validation of land acquired informally.


Most of the Caribbean countries lie in the path of hurricanes and are prone to prone to major earthquakes.  The extensive damage that has resulted from these disasters illustrate that preparedness for disaster is limited. Even then the best reaction after a disaster cannot be as effective as prevention, thus there is need for emphasis on disaster management through good and safe building practices. This not only reduces costs but also prevents structural damage and reduces injuries and fatalities.

Within the context of increasing globalisation of the world economy, the Caribbean forms one of the most vulnerable regions in terms of economic instability.  Despite the relatively early development of industrialisation and urbanisation, the region was hit by economic crisis in the early 1980s. This was characterised by international indebtedness, the stagnation of production, high and sometimes hyperinflation, falling incomes and growing impoverishment. Many countries entered into adjustment programs of their economies in anticipation of attaining an economic growth sufficient to create a reduction in the incidence of poverty. However, among the results were increased numbers of people (especially women) living in poverty conditions specifically urban poverty.

Urban poverty has more meaning and complexity than merely the measurement of income.  It includes lack of or limited access to housing amenities and basic services. The extensive existence of squatter settlements and crowded slums indicates that housing supplies are inadequate.

The issue of land scarcity and illegal status is a major problem for the urban poor and more so for women who cannot compete for the high prices. A high percentage of the urban poor lack security of tenure which is a key requirement in any shelter strategy. The shelter sector is conspicuously underdeveloped and is characterised by a huge shortage of housing, with the demand for land and housing far exceeding the supply available. The formal housing supply is only affordable by the middle and high-income groups.  Failure of the government policies and programs to make an effective contribution towards shelter provision for the poor has forced productive efforts of the poor themselves albeit in adversity.

There is also an increasing problem of supply of building materials and therefore, the need for efforts to consider ways in which the indigenous material industry can become more efficient and effective in order to reduce costs and increase supplies.

The Construction Resource and Development Centre (CRDC) works to improve human settlements in Jamaica.  CRDC is a non-profit organisation which provides training to the informal sector in areas such as safe building practices and water, sanitation and the environment.  It is aimed at improving the shelter standards of Jamaican and Caribbean people through research and information dissemination and facilitation of sustainable development with specific emphasis on vulnerable groups.  CRDC trains and places women in construction.  It is the only organisation in Jamaica that focuses on women and shelter.  It advises women on legal, technical and financial matters relating to housing.  This is done in collaboration with an Association of Women's Organisations in Jamaica (AWOJA).  The two operate a Women's Housing Advice Line (WHAL) whose aim is to improve the flow of housing and human settlement information reaching urban and rural women seeking to address the problem of inadequate housing.

CRDC's approach to disaster mitigation focuses on training of small builders in Jamaica and Eastern Caribbean and developing training manuals which are distributed locally and regionally. CRDC also educates the public about building hurricane resistant roofs and assists in fitting them. CRDC is part of the active network of Caribbean organisations, interest groups and communities involved in disaster mitigation and management including the office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergence Management (ODPEM), National Housing Trust and the Caribbean Disaster Emergence Response Agency CDERA). CRDC supports the transfer of information needed to have a safe and efficient construction sector both at the formal and informal level. It is involved in construction training, certification, material standards and building codes.


Shelter and basic infrastructure provision for low-income communities are the major concerns of both governmental and non-government organisations across Asia. Among other problems, degrading housing conditions is a major hurdle for many Asian countries. Rising  population and industrialisation have increased building plot prices as well as construction costs leaving many to live in very poor  conditions. Many policies and institutional arrangements create and reinforce urban poverty and prevent the poor from accessing basic services.  Rural poverty continues to deepen pushing more people to towns and cities in search of livelihood opportunities. Yet, once in urban area many find themselves changed from respectful land tillers to squatters maligned as lawbreakers for occupying urban space illegally.

Due to the unequal division of resources the vast majority of women are poorer than men.  While men predominate in the transport sector, small scale manufacturing and commercial activities, women concentrate on small scale trading such as selling goods at market or small kiosks, and the service sector such as working for wealthier households at very low wages.

Other problems that face women in Asia include inadequate shelter, poor sanitation, illiteracy and unemployment. Land is essential in subsistence economies as it provides a place to live, to work, to grow food and to get building materials.  However, land is also difficult to obtain and make use of it especially for women. Women have little control over access to land and property. In Nepal for instance, women can only dispose of their land with the consent of their fathers and sons in the case of unmarried women, or their husbands in the case of those who are married.

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 familites. At the same time, the majority of Asian women have no access to housing or credit facilities.

Across Asia, women have been prominent in struggles against evictions and for regularisation of tenure in informal settlements. In particular, systems of delivery pose problems to any citizen trying to acquire land.  This is even more so for women who have limited access to information, time and money. HIC WAS efforts in ensuring that some of these problems are solved include:

AIM (Identify, Merge, Action). AIM is a HIC WAS initiative centre in Faisalabad, Pakistan and is very active in the community implementing many programs including sanitation and solid waste management. Faisalabad, which is the third largest city in Pakistan and famous for its Agriculture University, textile industry and city planning and construction, has a lot of damaged and uneven roads, polluted water, uncontrolled sewage and inappropriate solid waste management. Both government and private agencies have concentrated on solving these problems but without big success. The situation has been worsening which has led to a surge in water borne diseases. Through the support of the Word Bank, AIM held an international congress on sanitation and solid waste management focused on developing strategies to improve the living environment of the urban poor through participation, dialogues and discussions.

COHRE (The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions).  COHRE is an NGO that runs a women's program dealing with violations of housing rights which disproportionately affect women. To COHRE, the right to housing as it relates to women is not fully explored. As such, COHRE initiated the Women's Housing Rights Programme (WHRP) whose goal is to empower women by focusing on their housing rights. The WHRP promotes and protects women's rights to adequate housing, lobbies to keep women free from forced evictions and assists women to develop their skills and knowledge so that they may assert and claim their right to housing. WHRP also works to ensure that the experiences, knowledge and skills of women are an integral part of the future development and promotion of the right to adequate housing at all levels.


While cities continue to crack down on homeless people living in the streets, resources to shelter or help them become self-sufficient are sorely lacking.  The number of homeless residents greatly exceeds the number of emergency shelter and transitional housing spaces.  Moreover, in most cities the availability of affordable housing is insufficient to meet the need.  A substantial percentage of individuals are unable to afford the fair market rent for an adequate apartment in  metropolitan areas.

Although the overall trend had seen unemployment rates tend to drop, those earning minimum wage struggle to meet the rent on decent apartments. Furthermore, fair market rents are not affordable for those subsisting on Supplemental Security Income or State or Local General Assistance benefits.

Many women rely on rental housing and spend more than half of their incomes on accommodation.  Women still earn less than men and thus, have less to spend on shelter. They face discrimination by landlords especially if they are single parents, members of a racial minority or on social assistance. Women form the majority of tenants and people on waiting lists for social housing.

To deal with these issues women have been involved in the design and management of a number of co-operatives and non-profit housing ventures.  In Vancouver, Canada, Entre Nous Femmes (ENF) was set up to provide housing to female single parents and their families. According to ENF’s experience, once women’s basic needs are met their lives become more stable and their income opportunities increase. Newsletters on women’s shelter issues have been produced and distributed to women’s groups and the general public.  To overcome severe housing conditions requires the combined efforts of both HIC WAS member organisations and others.

WoPHE (Women's Perspectives on Housing and the Environment) is a grassroots networking organisation working to bring women together to improve housing and environment related conditions. WoPHE encourages women support each other and to organise around housing issues by sharing their experiences. By understanding their underlying housing problems women can then develop alternatives together.  In 1994, WoPHE developed a housing repair program for women to provide maintenance skills, address isolation in neighbourhoods and apartment buildings and encourage income opportunities. Women participated in the development of the program which included home repair training and education.  The program aimed to prevent women from being ripped off when in need of repairs and to allow them to be more self-sufficient thereby saving money which otherwise would have been paid out in repairs or maintenance work done on their homes.

The program consisted of six sessions offered eight times a year and was designed and conducted by the Women's Research and Development Center (WRDC). The training provides women with hands on experience in the use of power and hand tools as well as basic training in plumbing, carpentry, plastering and electrical skills. In 1995, WoPHE organised a skills training program for home repairs, maintenance and safety. The meeting had among others, three workshops namely; home plumbing and electrical systems, maintenance and repair and security, fire safety and non-toxic cleaning products. In the plumbing workshop women received hands on instruction and had the opportunity to practice their newly acquired skills. In the electrical workshop women learned practical things such as how to safely remove broken light bulbs from fixtures, differences between fuses and breakers etc. In the safety workshop women learned about different aspects of safety and security in the home including home security devices, types of locks, alternative cleaning products etc.


Gender roles and relations in urban areas, which intersect with other social, economic and political relations, are reflected in both the spatial and organisational aspects of the city.  This has important implications for the ways in which cities are planned and managed.

Women are much less likely to be employed than men and working women are paid more poorly than men. In most European countries women’s wages are significantly lower than men’s. In Belgium and France for instance, women earn three quarters of the average male wage. As for representation in decision-making bodies, men continue to dominate. Even in countries where women’s representation is relatively high such as Finland, Norway and Sweden, women account for only one third of the legislators.

A survey by the Scottish and Glasgow Councils on Homelessness proved that hidden homelessness is a reality for thousands of single women both in Scotland and in Europe.  Hidden homeless refers to those who have shelter but which is not permanent, safe or secure accommodation.  Many hidden homeless women are registered on local authority re-housing lists and lack access to decent, affordable housing. Their homelessness is hidden from official statistics, housing providers and the general public. Despite their vulnerability to financial exploitation, sexual abuse and violence, single women are not given priority in house allocations.

Unlike men, most women become homeless because of relationship difficulties within the family. Hidden homelessness is characterised by a nomadic existence.  That is, constantly moving from one insecure address to another.  This is associated with lack of privacy and space, inadequate sleeping arrangements, poor diet, stress and depression. Housing agencies, therefore, have to recognise the existence of hidden homelessness.  There is a need to examine and quantify the extent of the problem and develop strategies to tackle it.  There is also need for increased investment in the quality of affordable rented housing particularly suitable for single people.

In the whole of Europe, the owner occupied sector in housing has expanded since World War II while the rental sector has been shrinking.  In general the share of ownership has risen by 2 – 5 percentage points in most countries over the last decade. This has been made possible by economic growth and the resulting increased wealth of the population, allowing for an increase in the number of households which can afford to buy a house or flat. However, the share of home occupancy is not a valid indicator of the wealth of a nation. Switzerland, for example, is one of the richest countries in the world but has a very large private rental sector in housing.

A core problem in Western Europe is finding a balance between effective delivery and social justice. Housing ought to be distributed according to the needs of different population groups. This problem has been complicated by an intensification of both sets of demands at a time when housing policies generally have been losing strength.

In the countries of Eastern Europe, housing markets have had to adjust to being opened up to capitalist forces. The question is: what will be the future role of the state in housing in these countries? It is felt that households that experience housing problems do so because of lack of income rather than problems of housing supply. The needs of female-headed households are not explicitly addressed and this assumption of gender neutrality is questionable in many policy domains. The relaxation of State influence on housing markets has been a gradual process.

FOPA (The National Association of Women Planners and Architects) deals with the promotion of gender sensitive urban planning, gender responsive urban development and the developing of indicators for gender sensitive development.


One of the most distinctive characteristics of Latin America is its high level of urbanisation where almost three-quarters of the population  currently live in urban areas. Venezuela has an urban population of 93 percent and has the highest level of urbanisation in the world. The rates of urban population growth in the region are relatively modest with a regional growth rate of 2.2 percent per year. Latin America has a number of urban problems including poverty, shortages of shelter and other essential services. The number of people living in absolute poverty increases annually. Declining economic fortunes result in deteriorating housing and environmental conditions of the urban poor. The growth of urbanisation, coupled with severe recession and the effects of macro economic adjustment policies has resulted in  serious consequences in terms of urban poverty.  The gap between the rich and the poor has grown and more so between men and women.

The high urbanisation has in most cities resulted in rapid growth of slums and squatter settlements because governments can not cope with the population increase in terms of provision of serviced building plots. This situation contributes to illegal developments in the periphery of urban areas making (for example) approximately 65 per cent of the real city in Sao Paulo (Brazil) as illegal. The adverse economic changes have led to dramatic changes in the housing sector as well with the current housing shortage being aggravated by evidence of a deterioration of housing and environmental conditions.

The increased emphasis on market forces has also led to growing land speculation and to increasing land prices in major Latin American 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.

Many efforts are underway to ensure that women and shelter conditions are improved in Latin American countries. The Women and Habitat Network of Latin American Region comprising of 17 countries, works to disseminate and mobilise on the rights of women to live, enjoy and use the city, and also works for the inclusion of the gender perspective in city and shelter issues. The main challenge is to alleviate urban poverty, which requires resources and actions by both the local government and civil society. This is done in consideration of the higher proportion of women in the general population, the increasing number of female-headed households and the effects of poverty and economic adjustments on women’s life.  To promote good governance and to build more democratic society means including women with governance capacities. The network’s main objective is to contribute to build women’s leadership capacities.

AVP (Asociacion de Vivienda Popular) of Colombia and ENDA of Latin America are two active HIC Was members in Latin America which continue to work hard in women and shelter issues. They both participate in different national and local women’s networks. They develop proposals and follow up gender projects in the legislative and executive branches of the state.

In legislative branch they coordinate with other networks proposals for projects on legal issues that relate to the demands of the network such as credit and subsidy facility for women, laws, over housing, property etc.  In the executive branch they have been approaching and lobbying MPs who are gender sensitive to obtain their support in the legal issues projects.

AVP’s main areas of work include:

  • creation of a specific housing subsidy fund for women heads of households
  • revision of laws that regulate housing ownership
  • legal recognition and fair remuneration for women in low income neighbourhoods who work for their communities
  • support of local participation of women and yout