Gender Justice in Housing and Development

Certain fundamental concepts set the limits of the standard order that we recommend and use. Usually these are constrictive. It is necessary to make these ideas accessible to our vision – to liberate and not constrict the regions. It requires us to be aware of our deepest thoughts — which are considered to be our most taken-for granted ‘given’ so that to critically reflect upon them.[1]It is in this way that we need to explore the relationship between Housing – as a place to live in peace and dignity, its value as a fundamental human right; and development – is not seen as a tool for achieving economic growth, but as a catalyst for redistribution to ensure sustainability, nature and gender awareness. Development as it is today is based on the clear notion that the poor and vulnerable are the tools in the pursuit of self-development and self-reliance.[2] A housing strategy that considers land as property to be bought and not as a human right everyone has the right to own, is different from the development process.

In this case, the application of the law and its role in the creation of illegal power – the relationship needs to be examined. As it relates to housing and the development process, it acts as a catalyst for the interests of the ‘rich’, with the exception of many of the poor and labels as many illegal elements in their lives. Sensitivity to the subject of gender is essential. The law traditionally addresses the question of discrimination only when two equal groups are treated differently.[3] The argument for this regard is that the law and society have roots in patriarchal structures that often ignore the view of women. Most political, economic and social processes are based on manhood as usual. Housing, development and law – as a tool to achieve development goals, need to be explored in the context of discrimination and the exclusion of a large part of humanity – due to class and gender differences.

Housing as development

The right to live in security, dignity and peace is a fundamental requirement of any development process. And this development is not reflected in the high-rise buildings that adorn our cities, in industrial growth, in the expansion of defense systems or in growth rates. This stands out as a baseless mockery about what ‘development’ means.

Developments include structural and operational changes. It is not a process carried out by a council of experts but is an integral part of politics, economics, social relations, culture and the environment of the whole society. Development as evidenced by the government’s development strategy depends on the pillars of the capitalist industry and commercial agriculture, leading to discrimination and the exclusion of previously marginalized sections of society. It has ensured that economic power is centred in the hands of a few with the labour costs of those who have been laid off throughout the program. Development should therefore be inclusive of “… Development of poverty, development of the technology of management and operation necessary to keep people in their position of relative poverty, quietly generating the surplus value that keeps the rich people rich.”[4]

Apparently in this context, both high-rise buildings on one side and slums on the other should be modern and developed. Uncontrolled urban growth coupled with economic development and existing urban planning legislation has led to “increasing segregation of low-income groups, the worst-serviced, and often the poorest located sites, and the rich group’s focus on high-income areas and best quality.”[5]

It is estimated that the benefits of economic growth are shared by the top 10% of the total population.[6]

The result of this has been to make houses into commodities and therefore cannot work for those who cannot afford and lack the purchasing power to enter the market. Under such circumstances, “the maximum number of city dwellers who do not have the means to pay for legal housing or health services or adequate food in the absence of the government to ensure their entry has only two options. Either they don’t have it, or as in the case of housing, they use inadequate and often illegal solutions.”

Often viewed as environmental instability or as a public health hazard, one needs to realize that there is no alternative to living in poverty. No one is poor by choice. Rising land prices, uncontrolled urban sprawl, urban employment are not created by the poor. They are victims of an unequal process of inequality that can be termed ‘development’.

The application of the law encompasses this discriminatory process by supporting the interests and conduct of those who exercise power. It is considered a very illegal aspect of the lives of many poor people. In addition to rising land prices and construction costs, the legislation in form of Town Planning and Building Regulations sets out the levels of space, services and implementation of construction that are beyond the ability to invest in a large portion of people.

Most of the Institutional and State laws aimed at promoting urban development, are usually weapons to deal with slum dwellers. As a prominent activist who participated in the housing struggle, Mr. Jai Sen, observed: – “One important issue with the law as much as it goes on in the name of ideological and political planning. They do not see the socio-economic conditions that produce slums and shacks, which need their presence. It only looks at slums and not the process and causes, and then only as a rule and order or as a public health problem. It does not look or see the social reality of today’s contemporary existence.”[7]

Homelessness is therefore the creation of a myopic process that promotes irreversible growth. There is no real conflict between the paved road dweller and the pedestrian; but among stone-dwelling settlers and various interests, land speculators, employers who deprive workers of sufficient wages to buy shelter, officials who illegally evict street dwellers and slum dwellers regardless of their human condition.[8]’

Housing as a human right

The right to housing is just the right of every man, woman and child to live in safety, dignity and peace.

This right goes hand in hand with the basic right to life, which can only be achieved if there is a shelter – not just “four walls and a roof or a stock of buildings to be produced as goods, but as a people’s struggle to maintain a safe and dignified living space and as a fundamental means by which community and social relations are built.”[9]

This fundamental human right is enshrined in international instruments — such as the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Constitution of at least 30 countries recognizes this right.

The Constitution of India enshrines the fundamental values ​​of freedom, dignity, equality and justice in the Preamble, and the fundamental right to life, in Article 21. Articles 39(b) and 39(c) and Article 41 of the Directive Principles of State Policy ensure good social and economic order in which every citizen can live a safe and dignified life.

Obviously, this would be like a clear statement without the individual’s right to housing. But the truth has a different story to tell – “Like this, more than one billion people live in unsanitary conditions around the world. Of these, more than 100 million are homeless.”[10]

In India, a citizen can only be called by law if they have the right to hold, the right to ration card, a postal address and this is only possible if they have a house in which to live. Outside the houses they remain invisible to institutions, non-organizations, non-creatures.[11]

Indian courts in many cases have recognized the right to housing as a fundamental right. In Olga Tellis v. Union of India[12] The Supreme Court observed: “The deprivation of this right (Article 21) would not only reduce the useful life of the contents, but also make life impossible. The Articles 39(a) and 41 of the Directive Principles of State Policy ensure they should be considered equally important in understanding and defining the meaning and content of basic fundamental rights.”

Need for a gender aware approach

While we try to understand the natural limitations in our social, economic, political and legal institutions and processes, and while we try to assess whether they are anti-democratic, anti-development and anti-constitutional, it is also important to take care of some basic issues. In order to be an integral part of everything that happens in the name of development, and the rule of law and the strengthening of the illicit power relations through a legal instrument was to systematically exclude women from full economic and political participation.

An important factor in society today is the “homelessness of women”[13] the fact that she is considered a stranger in both her natal and matrimonial homes. While property rights actually mean control and the right to sell them, a woman’s real need is to stay in the area without being harassed by anyone. It is here that we need to question the patriarchal bias in the political and legal system that creates the impression that once men in the family own land, the needs of women are automatically taken care of.

The proposal for shared ownership over house / land has been developed in the Sixth Five Year Plan. Statutes, however, do not yet see this as a mandatory requirement. The housing needs of unmarried women also need immediate attention.

“In order to have an effective housing policy, planners and development project experts will have to update their basic understanding of a shelter that is not only a building or a place where a specific group of activities is created, but a space determined by social relations. They strengthen the unequal relations between men and women by identifying target groups in the male provider’s income and building to meet the needs of the nuclear family. The fact is that women are invisible and unknown workers in our society.”[14]

It is therefore necessary to question the gender consequences of laws and practices that may appear to be neutral or objective. It is necessary to ask the ‘woman question’. “Have women been left without consideration? If so, how and how can this be done? What difference does it make to do that? Legally, questioning a woman means how the law fails to look at what is being done and the values ​​that seem more common to women than men, for whatever reason, or how existing legal norms and beliefs can harm women.[15]

Towards a conclusion

Under current conditions, the most important is the need to think about strategies for mobilizing resources, building awareness and knowledge of rights, evaluating the effectiveness of the legal system and community development processes.

Unemployment, Illiteracy, lack of resource management, lack of productive assets, lack of awareness, homelessness, and unemployment are the mainstays of modern social, economic and political processes. Are these indicators of development or anti-development? Do they not contradict the basic decisions of the value of our basic fundamental law of the Constitution?

If development is a complex social process, then the extent it achieves social goals that suit all members, ultimately, their interests (as opposed to what can be seen from time to time, through limited knowledge), alone is the real test of development.[16]

Housing as a human right and a gender identity, to achieve the same, are two important fundamental aspects of this development process. We need to explore, debate and define the values ​​that support existing institutions in society. Perhaps that would be the first step in achieving social justice, an order that would enhance the freedom and development of every man and woman.


[1] V. Spike Peterson, “Whose Rights? A critique of the ‘Givens’ in Human rights Discourse,” Alternatives XV (1990), 303-344, at p. 305.

[2] Clarence J. Dias, “From self-perpetuation of the Few to survival with dignity of the many: the crucial importance of an effective human right to development,” Report on the 40th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1988.

[3] Fred Streibegh, “Defining law on the Feminist Frontier,” The New York Times Magazine, Oct. 6, 1991, p. 31.

[4] Douglas C. Lumnis, “Development Against Democracy”, Alternatives 16 (1991) p. 31-66.

[5] Jorge Hardy and David Sattherwaite, Infrastructure and Services in Third World Cities, IIED, 1987, p. 20.

[6] Aurobindo Ghose, Impact of Delhi Anti-Encroachment Bills, EPW, Sept. 8, 1984, p. 1565.

[7] Jai Sen, “Criminalisation of the Poor”, Indian Express 10th August, 1984.

[8] Unnayan, “Pavement Dwellers: Encroachment on Pavements or Encroachment on Rights”, August 1984, p. 3.

[9] NCHR, “Framework for a Housing Policy”, The Outsider, September, 1988.

[10] Scott Leckie, “Housing Rights: Some Central Themes”, ICJ Review, December, 1989.

[11] NCHR, “Legal Strategies for Giving Housing Rights”, Unnayan, Calcutta, p. 9.

[12] (1985) SCR Supl. (2)51..

[13] Madhu Kiswar, “Toiling Without Rights”, EPW, Jan. 17, 1987, p. 95.

[14] Nandita Shah, “Gender and Housing”, EPW, Nov. 21, 1987, p. 1994 (1997).

[15] Katherine T. Bartlett, “Feminist Legal Methods”, Harvard Law Review, Vol. 103, No. 4. Peh. 1990. p. 829 (835).

[16] Raj M.K., Women and Development, Lokayan, 4:6, 1986.


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