University of Wales, Swansea
There is a widespread consensus among academics and development practitioners that extending housing finance to low-income groups is crucial if there is to be a resolution to the housing crisis in developing countries (Merrett and Russell 1994, Okpala 1994, van Huyck 1987). There is also agreement that the type and system of finance adopted (formal or informal) shapes the dominant form of urbanization (Renaud 1987b). This choice determines the availability of housing finance to two critical constituencies: low-income groups in general, and low-income women in particular.
Women’s interests in housing have not always been recognized—an ironic fact given the patriarchal association of women with the ‘home’. This marginalization of women in housing research is a cause for concern for a number of reasons. First, the persistence of female-headed households in developing countries means that there are significant numbers of women who may have to acquire urban housing themselves (Buvinic et al. 1983, Dwyer and Bruce 1988). 1 Second, the traditional link between gender and poverty suggests that it is harder for women heads to acquire housing than it is for male heads (Robertson 1992). Third, gendered power relations within the household can undermine the position of married women living in nuclear households. For example, given the inherently dynamic and fluid nature of households, the vesting of property rights solely in male hands makes the position of married women precarious in cases of divorce or widowhood.
In the context of the housing finance debate, the patriarchal nature of most societies and economies means that women’s access to and use of housing finance is affected by their gender. This is particularly the case in formal finance