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Gender Sensitive Approach to Shelter Issues of the Urban Poor
India

Keywords: Women & Gender equality
Poverty Eradication
Economic Development

Background

SPARC seeks to create a process whereby communities equip themselves to participate in the articulation of their problems in the city. What is special about the process is that it helps communities create space for women to participate centrally in the process of transformation, not only in the articulation of problems and finding solutions of it, but also in the management of development interventions, dialogue with state and caretakers of assets created through the process. This process is also able to reproduce itself and is now being setup in many other cities by the women who were the initiators of the process and started Mahila Milan. The process also helps women to gain confidence to undertake activities which they need for daily survival, and through the confidence they developed through these activities such as savings and credit, they get accredition from the community and move on to seeking more gender equity on other issues.


Narrative

SPARC was set up in 1984 to explore ways by which a group of professionals could work along with poor community to resolve the problems they felt were critical. It was intrinsic in this aspiration that women would be central to the process. SPARC began to work with women who resided on pavements in central Bombay seeing them as the most vulnerable group in the city. Alongwith 600 women residing in 5 settlements, SPARC explored why poor people can never get secure housing in the city, and despite the evidence to the contrary designed a training programme which equipped women to create human and financial resources to make an alternative possible.

Women in that exploration started a organisation called Mahila Milan, and formed a three way alliance with SPARC and NGO, and NSDF National Slum Dwellers Federation a federation of slum dwellers across India (which at that time was of men only) and began to provide exposure and training to the communities who were members in the federations, also assisting women in those settlements to form Mahila Milan collectives and negotiate space for participation in community matters. This emerging network moved from strength to strength and now operate in 14 cities in a substantial way, and in 21 cities in sporadic way.

SPARC and its alliance have also invested a lot of energies and time in creating conditions to allow women in poor settlements to dialogue with state officials. This was not only to help them get access to and isolation in which poor communities and especially women live in despite being in the city. This process required constant dialogue with state officials preparing them to understand the value and advantage of the dialogue to the achievement of their work goals, rather than as a favor to poor communities. It also meant tremendous preparation of communities, especially women to participation in the dialogue with confidence. Now this part of the process is a central feature of the strategies SPARC uses in all its work.

SPARC and its alliance also use the need for women to see and believe as a means of demonstrating to communities and to women what people working together can do. All over the country small communities get support to explore new ways to do things whatever they believe is their priority, and when they achieve something, the alliance creates fanfare and events in that area to bring all - professionals, media persons, government officials etc. to see what is possible.

In the last ten years many learning cycles to achieve many ends are over and they help us deal with new issues and situations. Clearly standing out in this pattern is that people create space for reflection on the problem, and explore the desire solution. The aspiration of the alliance is to seek win solutions which work for woman, and for the poor and also do good to the city. This approach earlier was not considered a route to change policy, but evidence of the last five years suggests that there is potential for creating precedents on the basis of which policies have been created, changed.

There remains a paradox which faces all feminist organisations when they work with poor women-poor women never choose a route to emancipation which is good for them but not for the family. They also get very antagonistic to attempts to explore gender relationships within households at the initial stage of dialogue with NGOs. SPARC and its alliance have clearly seen that women need to pace themselves on the path of their own emancipation. This begins very effectively with helping women play out their practical roles of doing things for the children and family.

The acknowledgement they get from these gives them space to dialogue with city authorities, exchange experiences with other women and other communities and learn new roles and skills. This confidence and their new found public partnership gradually give them the confidence to collectively explore intra familial equality and transformed gender relationships. It is clear that this is a slow process it takes time and requires patience and can never be measure in project cycles and often has to cope with several set backs. SPARC's proudest achievements are that NSDF male leadership remains the main support system to creating this space not because they have to but because the leadership itself feels energize, liberated and empowered in this new alliance between men and women seeking equity for poor communities in cities.

Finally the most essential quality of the process is that the NGO is a facilitator in the truest sense, while it never withdraws, it transforms its relationship with communities as parterns assisting new communities, and increasing responsibility of training and capacity building, planning projects, and executing them is undertaken by the community leadership, never on SPARC. And most important most of these trainers are women.


Impact

1. Mahila Milan has a standardized shelter training process and now trains communities all over the country.
2. Women in small communities all over India are running credit and saving groups which have convinced banks to lend them money on easy credit.
3. Mahila Milan now undertaken construction in all sites where communities get land tenure, and trains women to undertake construction management.
4. Community sanitation designed and developed by Mahila Milan which creates space for children women and men for toilets, and is managed by women is now the basis for the design of sanitation being developed in Bomaby, Lucknow and many cities.
5. Research and planning strategies adopted by the alliance is presently adapted in the resettlement strategy for those affected by the Bombay Transport project supported by the World Bank.


Sustainability

The process is assured sustainability for several reasons. We divide these reasons into processes which work within the community, in how new alternatives are sought, and finally how negotiations with the state occur for resources.

In the case of intra community transformation: Firstly, it is a process which involves women centrally from the begining, creating an agenda for change based on their needs. It moves at a pace they can manage, and seeks solutions which satisfy them and ensures that they can undertake those solutions on their own. Secondly, communities strongly support these processes, because the empowerment of women in communities is never positioned as a competition to me, instead women are assisted to megotiate power sharing with men in a manner which is useful for the relationships of men and owmen, and are assisted to negotiate power sharing with men in a manner which is useful for the relationships of men and women, and which benefits family and community.
Thirdly, women and communities who achieve some degree of success themselves become trainers, and gradually assist other groups to develop this strategy, always using the experience to refine and further develop the process.

When a solution is sought, the entire community assisted by the women, explore the problem and identify what factors in the situation create the problem or impede the solution. They also explore what they would like to have as the solution. And what its ingredients are. This is considered essential because who better that the people who
face the problem to identify what is the solution they would like. They then seek to undertake the solution concept and undertake small pilot projects to test their alternatives. resources which they do not have are supplied by SPARC through developmental assistance. This demonstrates what is possible, qualitifies what people especially women can do, and forms the basis of standardization essential for a large scale solution. Mahila Milan have undertaken this in credit, house construction, sanitation etc.

This process equips the communities to present the state with confidence, as partners seeking a solution which is good for the city and for the poor, not as supplicants in search of alms. Their work in the capabilities, and helping them negotiate.

Because the federation link up communities from different part of the city, and many cities all over the country, each community does not have to reinvent the wheel every time, instead through a network process echanges are organised so that everyone shares solutions, and help other communities reach their level of understanding. This learning and doing spiral has been expanding in the last ten years and is formidable in own capacity to energize poor settlements to surge ahead.


Indicators

The communities that learn are able to train and support other's learning.

The number of communities negotiation with local authorities and state governments are multiplying.

Local governments and state governments seek assistance from the alliance to design community participation programme.

Each year the alliance selects new areas for developing its knowledge, i.e. 1995 we began working on solid waste, 1996 we will move into water and drainage and so on.

International agencies are exploring ways to use the alliance to create much capacity among the poor in other countries.


Contact

    SPARC
    Byculla Area Resource Centre, Meghraj Se
    Bombay
    Maharashtra
    India
    400 008
    91 22 309 6730
    sheela.sparc@axcess.net.in

Sponsor

    Society for promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC)
    Ms. Sheela Patel
    P.O. Box 9389
    Bombay
    Maharashtra
    India
    400 026
    91.22.285 1500 or 91 22 283 6743
    sheela.sparc@axcess.net.in

Partners

    Mahila Milan
    Ms. Sheela Patel, Director, SPARC
    P.O. Box 9389
    Bombay
    Maharashtra
    India
    400 026
    91 22 285 1500 or 91 22 283 6743
    sheela.sparc@axcess.net.in

    National Slum Dwellers Foundation (NDSF)
    Ms. Celine D'Cruz, Urban Programme Coord
    Byculla Area Resource Centre, Meghraj Se
    Bombay
    Maharashtra
    India
    400 008
    91 22 285 1500/91 22 283 6743
    sheela.sparc@axcess.net.in

    Mr. A. Jockin, President, NSDF
    Byculla Area Resource Centre, Meghraj Se
    Bombay
    Maharashtra
    India
    400 008
    91 22 309 6730
    sheela.sparc@axcess.net.in


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