Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Empowerment of Women: Ensuring Housing and Land Rights

On Saturday 30th of January 2010 a seminar on “Empowerment of Women: Ensuring Housing and Land Rights – MDG 3” was organized by Association for Development Agencies in Bangladesh (ADAB) and Participatory Development Action Program (PDAP) at the National Press Club in Dhaka.

Kelly Koch, National Director of Habitat for Humanity International – Bangladesh was invited at the seminar as a Special Guest.

Speech of Ms. Kelly Koch at the seminar on “Empowerment of Women: Ensuring Housing and Land Rights – MDG 3”

“I’m fairly new to Bangladesh. But from Habitat for Humanity’s 10 years of operation here, we have witnessed a major gender disparity in different aspects of life. The adult literacy rate for women is estimated at 48 per cent. Dowry and dowry-related violence is still widespread, and women are the most likely victims of acid attacks. We have one of the highest rates of child-marriage in the world and many women still die in childbirth. The Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees equal rights to all citizens, yet laws still discriminate against women. Women who are dependent on men for land and housing are vulnerable to violence and economic deprivation.

Habitat Bangladesh encourages women to play an active role within their families, primarily through home-ownership, decision-making and training. As women tend to be the primary care-takers of and care-givers within the home, we emphasize that women take leadership within their communities. More than half of Habitat home loans to date have been served through agreements with women.

Habitat Bangladesh also works closely with female-led Community Based Organizations across rural Bangladesh. Our experience with loan-based programs has shown that working directly with men requires more extensive monitoring, while women borrowers are more responsive to social guarantees and encouragement from their peers. Looking at the gender disparity we recognize that having the land title in the name of women ensures that she obtains improved status within the family and society.

A great achievement for Bangladesh is that enrollment rates boys and girls in primary and secondary education has equaled. However fewer than half the children who complete primary school reach expected standards. There is a direct relationship in children performing at school and having a safe, comfortable space at home where they can study. Mothers also play a major role in supporting children in their learning. A number of mothers have said another major reason for taking on a Habitat home loan is to ensure their adolescent daughters have privacy as they get older – somewhere to study, grow and live with security. Education is a key tool in increasing the status of women.

Contributing financially supports a sense of empowerment for many Bangladeshi women, and Habitat homes provide a place in which women can work to further their livelihood. One of Habitat Bangladesh’s Homeowner Rubina Akter uses a corner of her Habitat home to sew clothes and dress materials which she later sells. Another female Habitat homeowner Rashida Begum uses a space of their little land to take care of her cow. Each day when the cow is milked the family uses some for their own needs, and then sells around two and half liters for extra income.

If we take examples of widows, it is too often a case that a widow is deprived of her matrimonial home and driven away, ending up destitute. Therefore inheritance rights of women and girls should be promoted and protected to safeguard their human dignity.

When we visit Habitat houses women proudly show us their homes and introduce us to their families. Having a clean and safe house in which they can raise their children or earn an income increases their confidence immensely.

One of our current program focus is on Hygienic Sanitation Facilities and Hygiene Promotion in Rural Bangladesh. This project will provide access to improved sanitation and hygiene conditions for low-income families in our program areas. The project aims to promote a healthy environment for all; with a particular focus on women, children and adolescent girls. By coordinating with local CBOs, we aim to proactively target women-headed or inhabited households, in order to promote their empowerment, gender equality, safety and wellbeing.

Last year we celebrated International Women’s Day by organizing a volunteer house building activity for women called ‘Women Build’. We invited economically solvent women join Habitat’s women beneficiaries in building their homes. The event developed skills and furthered understanding between women from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. We will be hosting yet another Women Build in March. I invite my fellow women colleagues to attend the build. Please speak to me afterwards should you wish to join us on the day.

Five of the eight Millennium Development Goals require the promotion of women’s land and livelihood rights. All development results cannot be sustained without addressing the different needs of women and men. We have found women to be particularly good with their money, in terms of stretching resources and repaying their loans on time and joining as an active partner in development. Let us continue to work proactively with women-focused housing and livelihood programs. Let us create opportunities for women to gain knowledge, strengthen their skills, and increase their ability to earn, educate and lead their families and society.

Thank you!”

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