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Are Gender Issues Appropriately Considered?

The first article is a general overview of gender-related issues to consider when planning a project, while the second points out general concerns when including women in the process with a focus on economic development considerations.


Women and Urban Settlement. Sweetman, Caroline, ed. (Oxford: Oxfam, 1996) Of particular interest see, “Gender, Domestic Space, and Urban Upgrading: A Case Study from Amman.” By Seteney Shami.

Women and Habitat, Urban Management, Empowerment, and Women's Strategies. Muller, M.S., Plantenga, D. Bulletin of the Royal Tropical Institute, no 321. (Amsterdam: Royal Tropical Institute, 1990)

“Women and Shelter (Resources for Action)”. Sorock, Margery; Dicker, Hortense; Giraldo, Amparo; and Waltz, Susan. Occasional Paper Series, Office of Housing and Urban Programs, Agency for International Development (Washington, D.C.: Office of Housing and Urban Programs, Agency for International Development, 1984)

Women and Economic Development, Local, Regional, and National Planning Strategies. Young, Kate, ed. (Oxford: Berg/Unesco, 1988)

Best Practices for Gender Integration in Organizations and Programs from the InterAction Community, Findings from a Survey of Member Agencies. InterAction, Hamerschlag, Dari; Reerink, Annemarie. American Council for Voluntary International Action, Commission on the Advancement of Women. (Washington, D.C.: InterAction, 1998)

Projects highlighting gender issues:
SIP - Slum Improvement Project, Bangladesh

Why Worry about Gender Issues?

Women are the primary ‘consumers of shelter’ yet they are “in a disadvantaged position with respect to acquiring shelter” (Sorock, et. al. 3). To mitigate this problem, project design should address the obstacles women face in finding access to shelter. Some of these obstacles include:

  • The high price of housing compared to the earning capacity of women
  • Women's lack of information on shelter and credit programs as well as the discrimination against women with respect to access to credit.
  • Insecurity with bureaucratic procedures
  • Lack of forums to voice their needs

      Their needs differ from culture to culture. For example, in Tunisia, many women wanted more space due to the separation of women's and men's space, and in Latin America, the women wanted more job opportunities and higher incomes to better afford housing.

Therefore, the following policies are suggested:

1 - Make Housing More Affordable

To lower the cost of projects, thus making it easier for women to afford housing, consider:

  • Upgrading and granting tenure instead of relocating. This is a much less expensive method overall.
  • Link housing projects to credit programs
  • Train women to do improvements themselves. (Sorock, et. al. 3)

(Note: These suggestions would equally apply to men as to women.)

2 - Create Employment Opportunities

“The generation of employment opportunities for women is critical in cases of households headed by single females” (UNCHS 77).
Easy access to employment and training centers plays a decisive role in enabling many women to engage in money-earning activities or raise their educational level. (Sorock, et. al. 16). To increase employment opportunities for women, consider:

  • Employing women on the projects
  • Remove zoning barriers to [encourage/facilitate the development of] cottage industries
  • Locate housing projects near job centers, when relocating slum areas
  • Include child care facilities in the project design - saves women time and provides work for other women. (Sorock, et. al. 5)

3 - Provide Outreach

“Institutions sponsoring housing programs should make special efforts:

  1. To provide the women with easily understood information about the planning of the programs.
  2. To minimize and simplify the paperwork and other formalities necessary for participation in low-cost housing and credit programs.
  3. To promote and support the formation of women's banks and credit associations.
  4. To involve women more actively in those decision-making community councils which discuss housing issues which affect women so dramatically.
  5. To solicit women's views in communities where councils do not exist or where women would not be permitted to participate” (Sorock, et. al. 5).

4 - Recognize Cultural Factors

“The planners of housing programs need:

  1. To be sensitive to the changing position of women in all the countries around the globe.
  2. To avoid making general perceptions that may not apply in a specific country or situation.
  3. To take into account the comparative restriction to the home of some Moslem women and their needs for privacy without isolation from other women.
  4. To coordinate housing design and planning with established women's groups” (Sorock, et. al. 5).

Steps to Take in a Project

Before embarking on a project, one must consider a number of factors when planning upgrading projects. For example:

Will it be more efficient/beneficial to lend/give the money directly to the women?

Have you invited the women to meetings? Can they attend given their work schedule and customs?

Is the definition of family built into the project congruent with theirs?

Is the project changing the family makeup by way of its procedures? For instance, is it encouraging multiple family households to split up by making married sons the only ones eligible for plots?

Is the project defining community for them or working with their definition of community? For example, in Lusaka, without knowing that people gather informally, central, formal, community centers were built. These centers were not used for community gathering, instead, the community turned them into much needed schools. In Amman, Jordan, community centers built as a component of an upgrading project made the people uneasy as they were accustomed to meeting in the houses of the community leaders. These centers were not controlled by the people, but rather by the state.

Is the space for women or for men? Both? Culturally, does this work?

If the project has health, family planning, or survey components, do those components compromise the privacy of the women?

Things to Keep in mind

Men could feel threatened by power given to women.

This might lead to more violence against women.

Men, feeling threatened, might try to sabotage the project.

Women around the globe are encouraged/taught to confirm the male’s masculinity. “The woman’s place” in society is a notion used to safeguard men’s dominant role in society. When a woman steps out of this subservient role, she endangers the male’s identity. For instance, when a woman joins a community group, she risks being “humiliated, beaten and abused by [her] husband or father.”

Additional thoughts

“Gender-sensitive urban partnerships have to recognize the different approaches that women and men adopt in organization, negotiation, and planning as a result of their socialization and experience of public life, and change their organizational practice accordingly.” (Sweetman 15)

“To ensure 'participation as empowerment,' therefore, it is important that women in organisations of civil society, such as NGOs and community-based organizations, are not only involved in community management, self-help, and service provision, but also have the opportunity for personal self-development, campaigning, and advocacy.” (Sweetman 14)

“Policy and planning with a gender perspective can be learnt. It does not depend on the sex of the urban practitioner, but on the perspective he or she adopts” (Sweetmen 15)

Women have the right to live in a neighborhood as owners of their own houses, without the threat of eviction. This can be ensured by making it possible for women to be the legal owners of their property.

General Concerns When Including Women in the Upgrading Process

Source: Women and Economic Development, Local, Regional, and National Planning Strategies. Young, Kate, ed. (Oxford: Berg/Unesco, 1988)

Planning Policies and Programs

1 - In order to incorporate women's demands into the formulation of State policies, it is not enough to obtain and compile criteria from women's organizations. The extent to which those expressed demands may have been induced by the State itself, or by private development agencies, and may not therefore truly reflect the women's true aspirations, must be evaluated.

2 - The State should not attempt to solve all the problems identified by women, but should limit itself to those that have the greatest impact on a number of other aspects of social and economic life. The need to define priorities carefully arises from the fact that the State has limited resources which should not be dissipated in numerous ineffectual actions. State paternalism should also be avoided. Women's organizations must search for their own solutions, on the basis of their own alternatives and initiatives. The State should in many areas be responsible for only providing enabling conditions, of which the most important is respect for grassroots initiatives.

3 - It is easier to identify the problems low-income women face than to find adequate solutions, because particular social and economic problems are part of a general socio-economic structure and cannot therefore be solved by isolated actions. Planners must visualize particular problems within their global context, and avoid the sectoralisation of policy; their proposals should be integrated into a general development.

4 - Careful thought should be given to the appropriateness of defining policies specifically for women as if they constituted a particular sector within social planning. An alternative is to promote women's active and even privileged participation in policies within integrated development planning, particularly those which have to do with the satisfaction of basic needs and with overcoming structural obstacles of development.

5 - Women of the popular sectors, be they urban or rural, give priority to the satisfaction of basic needs, particularly those relating to health and nutrition. To the extent that a ‘basic needs’ development strategy necessarily probes into the causes of poverty and marginalisation, women's participation in this area makes them strategic agents in the process of society-wide social transformation.

6 - In the design of policy, the question is not how women's integration in the formal sector can be increased, but what the modalities of their actual incorporation are. Statistics do not adequately reflect women's very significant involvement in the informal sector of the economy. Planners should carefully examine the stages and sectors of the formal and informal production processes in which women are actually incorporated, a well as their conditions of work, in order to formulate policies and programs that truly respond to women's needs.

7 - The State must recognize that women in the informal sector are less organized than those in the formal sector. The former therefore have less opportunity to express their demands to the State. Ignoring this may lead to defining policies mainly relevant to formal sector workers and may not reflect the needs and expectations of the majority of women who are in the informal sector.

8 - Non-formal educational programs directed towards women should not only contemplate training in various skills, they should also help dispel the ideological and cultural veil that sanctions traditional roles for women and that justifies forms of oppression, subordination and exploitation.

9 - Women's identification of traditional activities, such as dressmaking, like others for which they demand the State's assistance in the form of training, credit, etc., responds to their daily experience, but also denotes difficulty in overcoming traditional norms and roles. The planner and policy maker should not take these expressed demands at face value, but understand instead that they reveal a desire for change and improvement. The development of a more critical attitude and the search for true alternatives should be supported to probe below the surface of spontaneously expressed demands.

10 - In defining non-formal educational programmes linked to income-generating projects, due account should be taken of women's ability to learn new technical skills and knowledge, given their low educational level. Consideration should also be given to the conflicts that may develop between the requirements of a market-oriented productive activity and the other functions which women are inevitably called upon to perform and which relate to the family’s reproduction and cohesion. Otherwise, it is possible that training and income-generating projects may intensify rather than reduce women's oppression and two-fold exploitation.

11 - In the design of income-generating projects, the following points should be considered:

Find products that face less competitive or saturated markets than those based on women's traditional skills.

Emphasise ways to improve product quality and thereby enhance potential for market acceptability and means by which the female workers involved can be given appropriate training.

Ensure that the demands of the project do not drastically reduce the time available for women's participation in their community. Mechanisms such as double and triple shifts would allow the benefits for an income-generating project to be shared among a greater number of women within the community.

Ensure that through women's involvement in the project, the ideology that sanctions women's traditional roles in the productive sphere, along with the corresponding technological segregation to which they are subjected, are overcome.

Do not pretend that community income-generating projects will solve women's employment and income needs for more than a very small minority of women. They are only justified to the extent that they are part of an overall programme with women.

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