Women's Housing Conditions in Bangladesh

By Shefali, Mashuda Khatun | Women and Environments, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

Women's Housing Conditions in Bangladesh


Shefali, Mashuda Khatun, Women and Environments


Predominantly an agricultural country nearly 80 per cent of Bangladesh's 120 million people live in rural areas. Although the Bangladesh constitution affirms sexual equality, it is a class and male dominated society. Inheritance structures are patrilineal and family institutions patriarchal. Age and number of sons increase women's authority and help protect women's shelter needs. As a result women are subjected to threats of homelessness, desertion, violence, divorce, separation and abandonment. Without men their status in the community is not legitimate.

WOMEN, LAND AND PROPERTY RIGHTS

Not only is there a big difference in property rights between men and women in Bangladesh, but there are also genderbased differences in property rights between Muslim, Christian and Hindu communities. Under the Sharia't law, Muslim women with children can inherit one eighth and without children can own a quarter of their husband's property. Hindu women without sons, grandsons or greatgrandsons inherit from their husband's property, but not from their own parental property.

Even with limited legal provisions, in practice, women rarely control or use their portion of land or property. Male kin resist releasing property to women. In most cases women prefer to not fight for their portion from their parents' estate, in return for peace and visitation "privileges" to the parental home. It is a no-win situation in either case.

Men are responsible for maintaining their wives during marriage and their daughters before marriage. As men are perceived as the social head or principal bread-winner of households, the ability of women headed or single women households to exercise rights over property decisions is constrained.

WOMEN AND FINANCE FOR HOUSING

The lack of substantial savings or regular incomes required by banks are the most common blocks to women's eligibility for receiving financing for housing. The lack of land and legal property, and often paid employment which are conditions for collateral and other security, automatically excludes most, but especially rural women, from meeting the required criteria to access financing institutions. Many women are unable to make any transactions without a male partner or kin's consent or guarantees. Ironically, husbands or sons of middle-income women often use the women's names for income tax remittance or acquisition of more houses and assets in their own names.

Credit institutions have no gender responsive criteria. But if women can meet the general criteria like men do, women can get the loan for house building. As a step forward, the system of group loans is being adopted for each heir of the paternal property. In this way women can indirectly own their property although that is not the main intention of the policy. This helps some women to meet the same criteria as men and if their assets are sufficient, women can get loans to build a house. The social system which underlies the gender differences has, however, not yet changed.

HOUSING POLICY AND WOMEN

Government housing policies are ineffective in addressing gender inequities in Bangladesh. The housing shortage only increases. The main causes are steady population growth, landlessness, unemployment, natural disaster and the low status of women. This has caused a constant migration to urban.areas. When the government builds housing it is for government employees and higher income or middle-class tenants in cities. Women and low income groups can hardly ever access such units.

The informal private sector provides housing for lower middle income groups: Very low cost rental units are provided by slum entrepreneurs. The rental sector is too limited to supply the necessary number of rental units. Women are particularly marginalized by the limited housing options. Land and financing are the basic requirements for housing. Therefore, the government should make a commitment to extend access to the land and shelter market to all women.

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