Sustainable development is not possible without inclusion of women and ensuring their right to housing. Special housing schemes for women of all income groups, loan facilities, and exemption in income tax and concession in housing tax could be some of the measures.
An amendment in the Hindu Succession Act 1956 in 2005 gave daughters equal rights in parental property. The change in law was a welcome step in India’s endeavour to empower its women and make them economically secure. But mere right in parental property is not enough. For women, education, economic independence and the right to housing is as important as having the right to parental property. Ensuring housing rights for women can be an important tool in addressing the underlying causes of inequality and over the time will also lead to a shift in the socio-cultural norms that project the image of women and girls as an economic liability.
According to 2011 Census, the increase in population is more in urban areas than in rural areas. There has been a spurt in population growth in urban areas due to migration, natural increase in population and also because of inclusion of new areas under ‘urban’ category. As a result, lack of adequate housing is the most critical among the varied problems being faced by the city dwellers and urban poor which the government’s urban development programmes have continuously failed to address.
The shortage of housing for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and Lower Income Groups (LIG) in urban areas is expected to grow from the estimated 26.53 million dwelling units at the end of the Eleventh Plan (2007-12) period to enormous proportions due to low priority given to it. And with a housing shortage of 40 million in rural areas, the housing deficit nationally is more than 66 million. It is often the women and girl children who suffer the most if they do not have a house of their own. A house is not just a roof above their head but also a safety net, which saves them from both the outside world and male dominance in the family. Ownership of the house secures their position in the family.
Unfortunately, cases of sex determination and sex selective elimination in Delhi is amongst the highest in the country and the woman is often thrown out of the house if she does not bear a son, something she is not responsible for. In such cases, where does the woman go? Ensuring house rights to women will help arrest the menace. Lack of access to adequate housing and gaps in asset ownership and control has often led women to be seen as an economic liability and a burden for the family. The demand for housing rights for women should be viewed from gender equity and women’s empowerment perspective, with an understanding that having access and control over housing will give women greater autonomy and decision-making power, including fertility-based decisions and the strength to oppose daughter aversion.
To encourage women’s right to housing, in many states of the country there is a concession in the stamp duty if the property is registered in the name of a woman. But there are limitations too. If a man registers the house in the name of his wife, he is not liable to get income tax exemptions for the housing loan taken by him for the house. With a majority of urban dwellers taking a loan to purchase a house, this is a serious drawback. This on the other hand is encouraging black money holders to invest in property and also getting a concession in stamp duty by registering the property in the name of the wife. The situation is hence like having a woman sarpanch/ward member in a panchayat where her husband is the de facto executor of the job and the real decision-maker.
Further, huge housing deficit in urban areas has raised the question as how can housing right to women be ensured when there are not enough houses. Development needs to be at both levels: rural and urban. Adequate housing and sustainable livelihood should be prioritised into the overall development plans of the government to end homelessness. The profiteering urban development model being followed by the states needs to be stopped.
No cities can sustain until housing needs, which are an essential part of livelihood are fulfilled. Plans and schemes (loan repayment holidays, credit availability at lower rates of interest) need to be made in such a manner that the CityMakers can hold on to housing. Special provision should be made for women.
There has to be a no forced evictions policy. Government should adopt and adhere to the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement in all cases of eviction and relocation. When a family relocates, it is mostly the woman of the house and the children who suffer the most. The state needs to provide them a place where they can safely go to sleep and fulfil their basic needs.
The government wants to have Housing for All by the year 2022. Considering the huge housing shortage, it will have to construct 8,500 houses every day. Government should develop a national social housing strategy and addressing homelessness should be made a key aspect in its housing plan. The strategy should be developed in consultation with the CityMakers and people who are inadequately housed, including women. The government should come out with special schemes for both working and non-working women.
The new government has declared that it will develop 100 new ‘smart’ cities. But there is a concern that the poor might not be able to find any space in the proposed smart cities. Moreover, land acquisition in new cities would result in largescale displacement of the poor and disempowered. This would increase migration of the displaced to the cities where they would have no home of their own. It has also been proposed that slum development would be carried out in a public private partnership (PPP) model. Residents of informal settlements need to be constantly vigilant and see that they are included in the slum resettlement schemes and thereby secure their habitat.
Sustainable development is not possible without inclusion of women and ensuring their right to housing. Special housing schemes for women of all income groups, loan facilities for them, exemption in income tax and concession in housing tax could be some of the measures that can be taken to ensure housing rights to women and consequently empowering them.
With inputs from Anil Kumar, Coordinator, National Forum for Housing Rights (NFHR)
The author is the National Convenor of NFHR