Gender Mainstreaming in Housing

Summary of ‘Does the Domestic Space belong to Women’ published in TRIA International Journal of Urban Planning (Vol. 9, no. 1), Written by Rewa Marathe and Suzana Jacob

Households in the cultural context of a patriarchal society such as India, are primarily headed by men. The reason why a female heads a household is not a result of improving the social and economic status of women—it is unlikely that a woman will be considered the head of the household in the presence of her husband. It is mostly because there is no alternative (Masoodi, 2015). And while they are not considered the natural heads of the household, the house remains at the heart of women’s lives. It is where they spend most of their time, look after their family and children and even run businesses. In such a conflicting scenario of ownership and belonging to the house, it is essential to question our housing policies, building, and property ownership regulations for their adequacy of providing safety and security to the women.

Need for Gender Sensitive Planning

According to the 2011 Census, about 27 million households in India (11% of total households in the country), are headed by women. Still, the socio-cultural system places women as an outsider in their own family – the one who will marry and leave her parents’ house for her husband – and as the outsider in their husband’s house who came into the family through marriage. House is a workplace for the caregiver. In the current Indian context, this is primarily women. Safe and affordable housing for women is a key to combating urban poverty (Khosla). Women’s participation in housing usually begins where the housing project ends – in the maintenance of housing stock
(Fernando, 1985). Women and men differ in their roles, needs, and perceptions regarding housing and conscious efforts to address both their views lead to better project design and performance. Gender sensitive planning is therefore of great value.

Gender & Housing in India

The paper looks at policy, legislation, finance and design & construction processes within the housing sector in India to put together a broad understanding of the gaps in identifying and addressing issues critical to the subject. It recognises the following challenges:

  • Need of attention to the language used in describing gender
  • Little recognition of household management as ‘work’
  • Lack of attention to the needs of home-based businesses
  • Existing gaps & social stigma about female-headed households
  • Need for higher property ownership among women
  • Need for attention towards victims of domestic abuse and the limitations resulting from congruent lack of property ownership
  • Gaps in access to finance & homeownership – legal and social
  • Little attention to non-conventional familial structures/ units
  • Necessity of greater focus on women within the structure of housing schemes for poor
  • Dependence on women for bridging service delivery gaps
  • Need for larger participation of women in the design and planning process (which are both male-dominated professions)

The paper also highlights critical progress that has been made in the recent years

  • Government of India has developed a Draft National Policy for Women which articulates a vision for women empowerment. The policy looks at enabling environments such as housing and shelter, drinking water and sanitation, social security and infrastructure among others.
  • The recent Pradhan Manthri Avas Yojana (PMAY) supports the construction of affordable houses for the homeless with basic civic infrastructure and mandates its registration in the name of a woman in the family. Further, allocation of houses to beneficiaries is through a transparent process using an online portal.
  • Under the new urban agenda, issues of displacement during slum rehabilitation programmes are addressed by making in-situ redevelopment a condition for national programme funds (in PMAY).

These policies and programmes will help create an environment that will empower and enable women to access housing. But its success will depend on the large-scale engagement of women, deliberate and sincere efforts from public agencies, and collaboration and shared vision of various stakeholders including public, private and civil society organisations, that is supported by a strategic theme of gender mainstreaming. Gender mainstreaming can begin with the simplest of interventions, as is seen in the case of the City of Montreal, where METRAC developed the system of gender-based safety audits and the City of Vienna, which adopted gender mainstreaming as a cross-cutting strategy for the whole municipality by establishing an Office of Gender Mainstreaming. While individual women have and will continue to make incredible strides, women as a class will not fully achieve social, economic, and political equality until responsibility for the care of society’s dependents becomes consistent with participation in public life (Silbaugh, 2007). Adopting Gender Mainstreaming in India’s housing policies will provide equal opportunities for everyone. It will enable equitable distribution of resources, developing a system which is more sensitive to the needs of the society and leads to greater transparency due to a wider engagement with the members of the society at different stages of the planning processes.