Understanding Feminist Perspectives on Housing

Gendered Perspective on Development and Urbanization

In the present contemporary times, there has been a lot of progress for women in terms of inclusion in the processes of governance. For instance, at present, at least 189 countries are a part of the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) where they are legally committed to implementing all the clauses. Similarly, more than 90% of the countries across the world have formal policy agencies or governance processes in place for women’s empowerment and their inclusion. However, despite these formal advancements on paper, the reality is much worse and far from being perfect for women. Globally, 40% of the women make up the total workforce but the gendered differentiation of work and the wage gap is still a cause of concern as women earn only 10% of the world’s total income. Less than 5% of the land worldwide is owned by women and only 1% of the world’s property belongs to women. 

Simultaneously, women are constantly placed out of the ambit of affordable housing and accommodation facilities as well. The fact that housing and accommodation can also be a feminist issue and requires a gendered lens is often ignored or overlooked even in our present state of a modernized and globalized world. 

Why is Housing a Feminist Issue? 

Affordable housing is the need of the hour especially amidst soaring prices and the current pandemic situation. However, most often than not, when we are talking about the need to provide affordable housing, we tend to miss the angle of gender biases and inequality thereby putting women at a risk. They are more likely to flee because of domestic violence, seek assistance, and have lower wages. Being unable to put down a deposit on a private leased house or being concerned about the impact on children of being forced to relocate away or into temporary housing makes this decision even more difficult. All of this again stems from the lack of agency and stable income opportunities. 

Affordable housing has become a significant issue in India, where 17% of the urban population lives in informal settlements. Any housing design must take into account the unique vulnerabilities that women face in urban environments and prioritize women’s rights. In India, a person’s caste, class, religion, and gender have an impact on their ability to acquire land and houses, especially for poor women. Many women do not own property and do not profit from joint ownership for cultural reasons. They don’t always inherit property. Women’s rights to own, access, use, and govern the land, housing, and property are violated across India, a phenomenon caused by a mix of social, political, and legal causes. 

Historically, Indian housing policy has not been developed with gender issues in mind; instead, new dwellings have been created for “the marital unit.” According to the 2011 Census of India, women are at the head of 27 million families (11 percent of all households in the country). However, this is frequently not due to an increased social or economic position, but rather to a lack of options, implying that they are not considered natural heads of families, despite the fact that they play an essential role in home management in addition to being the family’s breadwinner. The perpetual battle between “ownership” and “belonging” necessitates specific consideration in the state’s legal, policy, and budgetary responses to the provision of accommodation and housing.

The Gender Gap in the Existing Housing Schemes

In recent years, significant progress has been made, particularly with the establishment of the ambitious Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY). The plan aims to encourage women to become homeowners by making it essential for a family to have at least one female member register as a new homeowner. In addition, women borrowers can enjoy lower interest rates when borrowing from banks, as well as partial stamp duty waivers and tax benefits.

While the plan is unquestionably progressive, it fails to address the concerns of women. To begin with, it focuses entirely on providing homeownership and ignores the social stigma associated with ‘female-headed households’ in India. Furthermore, it ignores the fact that women face discrimination not only because of their gender, but also because of their class, caste, marital status, economic status, sexual orientation, and age. Women from Scheduled Castes and Tribes, women from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, elderly women, abandoned women, widows, unmarried women, and single mothers are among the most marginalized in India when it comes to housing and land rights.

The Affordable Rental Housing Complexes (ARHCs) initiative was announced in 2020 to enable urban migrants, including industrial workers, health institutions, street sellers, students, and others, with access to dignified affordable rental housing. The initiative was expected to cover roughly 3.5 lakh people in its initial phase. It was intended to operate under a separate regulatory framework, to construct and operate under 25-year concessionaire agreements in which local governments set the rent and provide other incentives like income and goods and services (GST) tax exemptions. 

Houses created under JNNURM or Rajiv Awas Yojana are left vacant for a variety of reasons, including poor construction, fear of losing livelihood and social networks, and a lack of trunk infrastructure because these houses are situated in outlying areas far from business centers. The demand for ARHCs may also be influenced by the urban poor’s past experiences with regard to the previous housing schemes.

Need for a Gendered Lens 

Women, yet again, are particularly bothered by such inquiries. Women are disproportionately affected by rental residences that are too far away from employment, as seen by the numerous incidents of resettlement in India when women lost their livelihoods and income, as well as authority over household resources and decision-making. Women are at risk of becoming impoverished and vulnerable as a result of relocating to less populous areas, both at home and during their commute. Past failures in housing rehabilitation have taught us important lessons about how to incorporate women’s spatial requirements into housing and settlement plans.

First and foremost, family security of tenure is critical, as it puts them vulnerable to forceful evictions. This is especially true for women, according to the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, who are “particularly vulnerable to forced evictions given the extent of statutory and other forms of discrimination which frequently apply in relation to property rights…when they are rendered homeless.”

In order for initiatives to be effective, they must also address the underlying reasons for the housing crisis. In this context, having accurate and sufficient gender-disaggregated data is critical. Given the significance of housing and land for women, data on ownership and access rights must be collected. Innovative reforms and alternative approaches that address the critical links between women’s rights to work, food, housing, health, land, and security must be recognized in law and policy in order to achieve long-term change, especially at a time when urban poverty, discrimination, and violence against women are on the rise across India.


The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

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