Women and housing rights
I have been privileged to work with women who are passionate with their work, extremely competent and able to forge consensus for reforms, yet unafraid to take the lonely path if they have to. I make these observations without patronizing surprise at their abilities, and only to counter those who doubt women’s abilities. At present, I work closely with the president of the Social Housing Finance Corporation (SHFC) who is as comfortable asserting her propoor positions in the boardroom as she is talking to residents of slum communities. Previously, I worked for the Chief Justice, who taught me the power of combining excellence, public service, and steadfastness in holding on to one’s principles.
The toughest and most resourceful women I have seen, however, are among the urban poor communities where resources are very limited. There is Aling Menang who led communities along the esteros (waterways) of Manila in obtaining land in a safe area of the city. She asserts that the relocation has to be in-city to preserve access to livelihoods, schools, health and cultural services. There is also Nora, who shepherded her devastated community in Capiz by quickly “building back better” after Typhoon “Yolanda.” In Zamboanga City, I met Sitti, a Tausug woman who also led her community in obtaining security of tenure while ensuring that the SHFC housing program respects Islamic tenets.
Some of the women community leaders I have met eventually managed to share their expertise on the international stage. Whenever I check the Facebook pages of Ruby and Ofel of the Homeless People’s Federation of the Philippines, I see pictures of them lecturing on community-driven housing solutions before World Bank executives, government technocrats, and academicians in Washington, DC, Geneva, and Nairobi. I used to chat with them about their struggles only in the dingy alleys of Payatas, but now their work is inspiring others in the world.
Working with women has opened our eyes to the linkages between housing and the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, and led us to think of housing multidimensionally beyond mere house structures. They have taught us that housing is a tool for poverty reduction, for building sustainable communities, and for women empowerment.
Having witnessed how my own mother juggled work in the office and at home, I have asked these women leaders whether their work with communities did not present a double, or even a triple, burden on them. They said it was a challenge indeed to find a balance between their competing duties. One said, for instance, that her husband started being suspicious of her being away too often.
But what has kept these women going is the knowledge that the success of their work in the communities would redound to the benefit of their own families, too. They also said they made the conscious choice to lead their communities and eventually found fulfillment in their work as they discovered skills and power that they never knew they had.
Women have made invaluable contribution to the realization of housing rights toward improving the quality of life particularly in the poorest communities, where people are stuck in intergenerational cycles of poverty that are extremely difficult to break. With their work in housing, the women I have met were able to help the poorest of the poor escape from the traps into which they were born, traps created by centuries of elitist rule that continues to misappropriate resources, particularly land.
We need to support women’s initiatives to provide homes for their families and communities. As a first step, the government must increase the budget for housing as strongly suggested by respected economist Cielito Habito (“Let’s do housing right,” Opinion, 3/28/17). We also need to make housing affordable and to streamline procedures to lessen expenses and time taken away from work, family and community.
Women have made change that worked for their communities. It is time we made change work for them.
Junefe Gilig Payot, a lawyer, also holds a master’s degree in poverty and development from the University of Manchester (Chevening Scholarship) and is now corporate executive officer of SHFC.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.