Following the rape and the murder of a young woman in a bus in India, Cecilia Tacoli, head of research for the International Institute for Environment and Development, tells us about the specificities and risks of female poverty in urban areas.
Why tackle female poverty in urban areas?
Urbanisation should be an opportunity for women. It should give them access to better employment, better sewage systems and greater independence. In practice, women often fall victim of harassments, are abused in public transports and, for the poorest do not have access to proper health services. Women’s role in sustainable development is often left aside. From an economic side, they are the one to support their husband by staying at home and being responsible for the household routines as well as bringing the children up. Socially, they take on positions as care workers, looking after elderly people and younger ones. We tend to overlook the amount of care work that is going on. In Guatemala for example, studies estimate that care working represents 30% of national GDP. By taking care of their household and making sure that everyone has access to proper sewage systems these women are also taking care of the planet.
But reality isn’t that easy?
Indeed. If situations evolve from a country to another, from a culture to another, from a social status to another, women are often victim of urbanisation. Forced to work to help their husband sustain the household, they can’t leave the daily routines aside, those they already had to take on in the rural sector. On top of that, they often have long journeys to get to work, which make them vulnerable, and they often fall victim of physical and sexual harassments, as it was the case in India. The positions they take on are mostly not covered by a labour agreement and the working conditions can be very insecure, offices being unhealthy and stressful. Furthermore, in urban areas, they don’t have anywhere to grow their fruits and vegetables, the space they dispose of to raise their family is often constraint and the sewage system, most of the time, is lacking. Life in slums is hard, a lot harder than in the countryside.
What does the future hold for these women?
Described as such, things aren’t looking good. But the recent demonstrations that took place in India show that women, if they come together as a group, can make themselves heard from national and world leaders and play a part in an evolving culture. This however is too oftenly accepted: in a number of cultures, a workingwoman who makes her voice heard is not a good woman and it reflects negatively on her husband. However, women are now able to take advantage of the opportunities urban areas offer to them, of course access to birth control but also social enrichment, to come together and express their views.
What is the impact on the planet?
At home, it’s not the man that ensures the household has proper access to a sewage system; it’s not the man that makes sure of a balanced and health diet. It’s the woman. Women have understood early on the importance of sustainable development for their family’s well being. If they are able to come together in urban areas, to perhaps create shared vegetable gardens and ensure access to sewage system for all, then that would be an important step for the planet.
Women work toward the society, the economy and the planet in the most silent of ways. It is time for them to take the floor, which is what they have started doing!
Interview by Roxanne Crossley