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Do We Know What Works for Women in Urban Land and Housing?

With urbanization growing around the world, our new evidence brief explores how women’s land rights are impacted in urban settings.

When we think of women’s land and resource rights, we often envision rural communities, subsistence farming, and formalized access to the means necessary to support a family within an agriculturally-focused community. Considering that roughly 2% of the land around the world is considered urban, this type of focus makes sense.

But when you also include the projection that, by 2050, 70% of our global population will live in urban areas – and that, presently, over 1 billion people live in slums surrounding those urban areas – taking a step back to think of women’s land and resource rights within the context of urbanization begins to make even more sense.

Slums are often characterized by a lack of formalization around land and property rights, and women are overrepresented in slum populations. As part of our evidence brief, author David Bledsoe notes:

Women tend to outnumber men in slums. In 47 of the 59 developing countries from which data are available, more women than men live in slums. Slums are home to a high percentage of total women in those countries as well. In 61 percent of those 59 countries, more than half of women aged 15–49 live in slums.

Many of the women who have migrated from rural areas to urban slums have done so as a result of insecure land rights, such as the disinheritance of widows. While the focus on and improvement of women’s rural land rights will have an overall impact on women’s economic and social security, what are women currently living in urban slums experiencing?

There are several organizations that are doing work in this area; specifically, UN Habitat has several projects and initiatives focused on addressing land formalization in urban slums. One of the approaches regarding formalizing land rights is readjustment: An organization or government selects an area, researches land ownership, records and formalizes this ownership, develops infrastructure to support and integrate the slum into the public service system, and then reallocates the land. 

Given that many of the people living in slums are tenants or squatters, many with no formalized rental agreements, and that women outnumber men, we can begin to see how these types of programs might adversely impact impoverished women living in these urban areas.

Overall, our takeaway from this research is simple: More needs to be done. There isn’t a lot of focus on this topic, and so there needs to be even more research on how urbanization and slums are impacting women worldwide.

We hope that this evidence brief will shine a light on this pressing need and invite you to contact us with any questions or ideas you may have on this topic.

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