Urban Women's Participation in the Construction Industry: An Analysis of Experiences from Zimbabwe

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper analyzed the impact of urban women's participation in the construction business on income generation, gender roles and responsibilities, family and societal perceptions in Zimbabwe. Problems and constraints affecting women's participation in the sector were also identified. A total of 130 respondents were purposively selected from four urban cities namely Chitungwiza, Marondera, Norton and Rusape. Structured questionnaires and focus group discussions were used as the main data collection instruments. The findings of the study showed that women's businesses in construction were profitable and constituted an important source of family income. However, business growth was negatively affected by limited access to finance, lack of suitable equipment, high cost of inputs, and training in business and marketing skills. There was also greater gender burden created as women sought to strike a balance between the social roles and economic activities even though the community had a positive perception towards their involvement. There is need for re-orientation of the national housing policy so that it explicitly incorporates the specific needs of women in the construction industry. Strategies that reduce gender burden on women also need to be explored.

Keywords: Construction, National Housing Policy, Urban, Women, Zimbabwe

Background

Globally, the construction industry contributes about 1/3 of gross capital formation and is an important vehicle for economic development through built environmental assets such as houses, roads, utility networks, schools and clinics (Kenny, 2007). However, much of the construction activity has been taking place in developed countries as opposed to developing economies as the latter are faced with numerous challenges related to skills scarcity, lack of financial and technology resources necessary to stimulate vibrant construction work (van Wyk, 2006) resulting in formalized urban cities failing to cater for the housing needs of people living in developing countries. The unprecedented levels of urbanization characteristic of most developing countries have resulted in the emergence of slums and informal settlements. The UN-Habitat's Global Report on Settlements (2003) estimates that by 2010, the levels of urbanization for Africa, Asia and Latin America will be 42,7%, 43% and 79% respectively. Developmental challenges that include spread of disease pandemics (cholera, dysentery), supply of unclean water, poor infrastructures and poor service delivery are common in these regions.

As with most developing countries, Zimbabwe has been characterized by high rates of urbanization since the attainment of independence in 1980. Following the rescission of restrictive pass laws by the predecessor government, the urban population grew from 23% in 1982 to around 30% in 1990 as most people sought to work in the urban cities (UN-Habitat Global report on urban settlements, 2003). This led to an escalation in demand for housing, which subsequently led the government of Zimbabwe to enunciate the national housing policy. This policy framework facilitated the production of 15000 housing units annually between 1980 and 1994 and 18000 units from 19951997 that decreased to only 3000 units between 1998-2000 (Zimbabwe National Housing Delivery Program, 2005, p12). The decline in the delivery of housing units is attributed to contracting budgetary allocations and an inauspicious macro-economic environment characterized by hyperinflation (according to CSO, 2007, inflation stood at 14000% in November, 2007), shortage of foreign currency and negative economic growth. Even though housing delivery has been declining since 1990, the gender dimension of housing units produced between 1980-2000 is not clear and it is also acknowledged that many households do not have security of tenure. In rural areas, women owned between 31-34% of all private land (CSO, 2000, p54) between 1995 and 1999, a scenario that could also be extrapolated to the urban areas as gender biases still permeate the different sectors of the economy. …