Accomodation & Housing  

Women constitute of ½ of world’s population and do 2/3 of world’s work. In return, Women get 1/10th of world’s income and own 1/100th of world’s wealth. - UN

The cultural differences between the various ethnic groups contribute to an enormous degree of domination over the lives of women, their absence from public spaces, and their confinement in a restricted private space.
In addition to the confinement of women to the private space, other rights of women are limited due to the lack of adequate infrastructure for services including education, social services, water, electricity and public transportation.
Women’s Right to Land and Housing has been major concern of the women’s movement in India for over two decades. Globally, women’s land rights are becoming an area of increasing urgency. In most societies, women have historically managed the unpaid care economy and fulfilled the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, family care, collection of fuel, fodder, water, kitchen gardening, poultry and animal husbandry and provided food and nutritional security. As women’s contribution to the economy and society at large remains unrecognized, largely underpaid and mostly unpaid, the need for women to be able to secure land and property has become even more critical.
Similar to the cross-cutting nature of women’s human rights issues, women’s land and housing rights intersect with other problems such as discriminatory inheritance patterns, disinheritance thro’ wills, agriculture and development issues, use of forest-based resources, gender-based violence, the appropriation and privatization of communal and indigenous lands, as well as gendered control over economic resources and the right to work. The interdependence of women’s human rights highlights the importance of women being able to claim their rights to adequate housing and land, in order to lessen the threat of discrimination, different forms of violence, denial of political participation, and other violations of their economic rights.
  Constitutional Provisions in India  
Constitution of India has guaranteed “equality before the law” and “equal protection of laws within the territory of India” to citizens irrespective of class, caste, race, religion and sex as per Article 14. Article 15 (1), 15(2) and 15 (3) not only prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, but also provide possibility to apply affirmative action policies for women and children. Women’s Policy adopted by Maharashtra, 2001 support land rights for women and in 2003 the state government issued a Government Resolution (GR) to that effect. A.P. state government was the first among all states of India, to declare land and property rights for women during mid-nineties. It was followed by amendments in the Hindu Code Bill after the public interest litigation was filed demanding coparcenaries rights for Hindu daughters in the ancestral property.
  Women’s Movement for Land Rights  
During 1980s, rural women of Bodh Gaya waged a heroic battle under guidance of Chatra Yuva Sangharsh Vahini against Mahant of Shankar Math who had usurped 12000 acres of land. Monks of the Math used to behave like feudal lords and many lecherous monks also used to sexually exploit poor women agricultural workers. They raised slogans such as “One who cultivates land is the owner of the land” and “One who ploughs, sows and harvests is the owner of the land”. Along with mass mobilization, they also filed public interest litigation and after a long drawn struggle, in 1989, the Supreme Court of India gave a historic judgment and decreed that the land under control of Math should be distributed among the agricultural labourers. The state and district administration consulted only men. Only in Katora and Kusha-Beeja villages some women managed to get land in their names after consistent mass mobilisation. Land-ownership to women resulted in reduction of wife-beating, alcoholism and mortgage and sale of land. While, in Kusha, the land was given to daughters, in Mastipur, the daughters-in-law inherited land.
Public interest litigations filed by Bhuribai and Dhagibai, tribal agricultural women workers in Dhule district of Maharashtra and by Laro Janco in Singbhoom in 1985 backed by strong ground level land-struggles and movements of women invited attention of policy makers to the burning issue of land rights. But, without gender aware administration dealing with land allocation, inheritance and dispute settlement, prejudice against women persists among officers who don’t allow women to benefit from land and housing rights. Both, NGOs and GOs, when it comes to women’s development, focus on employment generation rather than ownership and control over land, shop or house.
During 1980s, as feminist activists when we joined National Campaign for Housing Rights, an umbrella organisation fighting for ’housing for all’, we were acceptable as mobilisers, translators and foot soldiers but as soon as we demanded land and housing rights for women, we were shunned.
Since 1990, Shetkari Sangathana has persuaded hundreds of families to in their areas of influence in rural Maharashtra to implement joint registration of land and housing in the name of husband and wife. In 2006, MASUM, NGO in Pune, launched a campaign for joint registration of property as per GR passed in November, 2003. Within a year, MASUM managed to achieve joint property registration for 95 % of households in 80 villages of Purandhar Taluka. In 2002 Janu, a tribal woman leader of Vaynad district of Kerala has exposed patriarchal biases in the land-reforms implemented in Kerala. In Gujarat, women’s organisations have formed a coalition to pressurise the state to ensure land-right for women. As land struggles, accentuate, increasing number of incidents have been reported in Maharashtra, M.P., Bihar and Jharkahnd of witch-hunting of female headed households managed by widows, single, divorced and deserted women by the vest interests driven by their greed to grab their land.
  Genesis of Women’s Movement for Housing Rights  
When women’s groups started providing support to women in distress, it was relatively easier to find jobs and school-admission for children. The most difficult task was to get an accommodation for women victims of violence, desertion, rejection from natal or matrimonial family and cheating by their relatives.
Women’s Movement has been doing advocacy work about housing rights for women since 1980. Says Ms. Neera Adarkar, an Architect and a trustee of Majlis, Bombay, "In the beginning, I saw myself as an architect. But after being a practicing architect, who was dealing with building construction activities for a number of years, I have started critiquing my profession. Housing and other environments with which we worked have to follow certain norms as they affect our lives on a daily basis. We take our built environment (house-community-city) for granted. We think that this environment exists, but actually, it is built by men. We have to ask ourselves questions such as,
  • ’Do we as women, utilize space differently?’

  • ’Can we create environments which are more gender sensitive?’

  • ’Can we make policy makers and planners who are working at the state level understand the politics of built environment and gender rules?’

  • ’What are our alternatives to the existing approach adopted by Sight and Service Schemes (SSS) and Slum Rehabilitation Schemes (SRS)?’

  • ’What interventions can we make in the city planning which involves physical access, economic access and social access?’"

  Women’s Right to Housing (WRH)  
WRH is linked with women’s right in property, land and inheritance. As primary user of housing, women’s stakes and requirements are the highest in housing. For women, beyond shelter, housing is a place of employment, a place for social interaction, a place for childcare and a refuge from social instability and sexual violence.
  Special Needs of Female Headed Households (WHHs)  
In the peaceful areas of India, 1/10th of the households are headed by divorced, deserted and single women. In our country, in the conflict prone areas, over 30 % households are headed by women. Even if they have money, they face hurdles while looking out for a rented place or a house on an ownership basis. Nearly one-third of households worldwide are now headed by women; in certain parts of Africa and Latin America, as many as 45 percent is FHH. The households headed by women tend to be poorer than male headed households. United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS) (Habitat) estimates that at least 600 million people in the cities of developing countries live in shelters that are life-or health-threatening.
  Women’s Rights to stay in Parental and Matrimonial Homes  
In the last 20 years, many women filed petitions in the High Courts and the Supreme Court of India demanding wife’s right to live in the matrimonial home and daughter’s right to stay in the ancestral home. Till the recent amendment in the Hindu Code as per Mitakshara laws, only sons were allowed coparsonary rights over ancestral property as they were considered Karta. Lata Mittal challenged Mitakshara laws applicable to Hindu daughters who are deprived of right to stay in the ancestral home. Protection of Domestic Violence Act, 2005 has ensured right to stay in matrimonial and parental home to women.
  Housing and Women’s Identity  
Women’s identity is entwined with a house but housing’s identity as a capital investment and the largest outlay in the household budget lies with male head of the household. Whether women are or aren’t property owners, their place of sphere is considered to be within the house. Even, this cult of domesticity does not help women as it perpetuates low status of women. Market economy devalues domestic work and the mainstream planners and policy makers consider it ’non-work’ and invisibles women’s housing concerns.
  Gender Bias and Housing Problems  
The gendered construct of social and economic relations within and outside the household and deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes in the civil society discriminate against women in virtually every aspect of housing, be it policy development, entitlement in government projects, control over household resources, right of inheritance and ownership and even the construction of housing.
  Emerging Issues  
There is a need to focus on housing in terms of “personal meanings” as well as affordability, women’s role and the housing industry. The state must take affirmative action to empower women in exercising their housing rights because men as property owners enjoy privileged position and control housing delivery system. Moreover general subordination of women is also reflected in women’s lack of representation in higher echelons political bodies. Societal restrictions reinforce women’s status as second- class citizens. As a result, women professionals in the housing industry i.e. engineers, architects and agents have to sub-serve the interests of male-dominated construction industry.
  Gender Aware Approach  
Gender-neutral approach in housing goes against women’s interest as women’s concerns get subsumed under general agenda. Hence there is a need to introduce gender aware approach in housing that takes women’s strategic and practical needs, concerns and rights into consideration. For that, we will have to sensitize all stake groups in the housing industry i.e. land surveyors, builders, developers, designers, financiers, mortgage bankers, lawyers, credit unions, government officers, material suppliers, real estate brokers, appraisers, contractors, interior decorators, gardeners, landscape architects and cooperative societies. In the language of economics, both, supply side-production, construction, management, maintenance, rehabilitation and the demand side community groups, consumer forum and cooperative societies should be sensitized about women’s housing rights. Moreover, segmentation of women in factor, labour and product markets regarding land and housing also needs to be addressed.
In light of the above, the relevant question that concerns us is whether or not the concept of adequate housing and accommodation for women in general, and for women in particular, is determined according to the women's need for that accommodation, or comes as a result of their right to accommodation. That is, the question is whether or not the discourse in question is one of “need” or "positive rights."
  Copyright@ 2009 India Women Welfare Foundation