Over 60% of urban residents in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) live in rapidly expanding slums characterized by insecure tenure, overcrowded poor quality housing, lack of basic services, degraded environments, poverty, precarious safety, and high rates of violence. Within this context, land and housing issues lie at the heart of urban women’s poverty, exclusion and insecurity. When women’s equal rights to use and control land, housing and related resources are protected, they can better provide for their household needs and respond to challenges such as gender-based violence; HIV/AIDS, COVID-19 and other health emergencies; environmental disasters; and, political upheaval. They are also freer to use their home and the space around it for income-generating activities, including food production, processing and marketing.
To advance women’s enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, habitats and livelihoods, Rooftops Canada/Abri International (RC-AI) has joined forces with other HIC Member organizations in Angola, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda in a new initiative. The 2021–27 project “Women’s Spaces: Implementing Equal Rights to Land, Housing and Livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa” (SSA) will contribute to poverty reduction and deliver meaningful change to poor and vulnerable women and girls living in urban and peri-urban informal settlements. The projects aims to enhance implementation of women’s economic, social, cultural and process human rights to access, use and control land, housing and livelihoods in their urban environments. This is directly aligned with both Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy and the extraterritorial dimension of Canada’s Agenda 2030 commitments, as well as those of the target countries.
In SSA, formal gender equality in land, housing and related livelihoods has improved with the adoption of gender-positive constitutions, laws, implementing both legally binding human rights treat obligations and voluntary international commitments such as the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda. All project partners share the experience that, in practice, a wide gender-equality gap remains, whereby implementing women’s human rights locally often faces entrenched traditional attitudes and practices.
This calls for action in all spheres related to land and housing tenure, which links to associated laws and norms affecting marriage, marital property, various forms of inheritance; environmental stewardship and male-dominated hierarchies of power and decision making. Through this new joint initiative, partners and human rights-bearing participants will develop sustainable responses to these cross-sectoral challenges within their demonstrated areas of competence. Testing country-specific practices and adapting them through the project’s multi-country framework will contribute to comprehensive and cross-border understanding, and generate new gender-responsive policies and solutions that will be shared regionally and globally.
The experience and credibility of the project’s implementing partners is key to this initiative. It will build on their positive relationships with national governments and local authorities, and extend these to include community participation, especially by women.
In Angola, implementing partner Development Workshop is a major player in the government’s decentralization program. The project will focus on building the capacity of local authorities, community-based and women’s organizations to co-produce land-tenure maps and data, and comanage customary, social and informal land tenure using participatory land management tools that will be customized and shared with other project stakeholders. The project will further embed the protection of gender-equal land rights into these tools, and scale them up through the national government’s land tenure program, while assisting the ministry responsible for women meet its gender-equality objectives.
In Kenya, Mazingira Institute (MI) has a strong working relationship with Nairobi local authorities, based on its extensive experience supporting urban agriculture and food security. The project will assist the authorities to operationalize legislation that mandates them to provide land, water and other resources to slum dwellers to produce, process and market food. Innovative mechanisms to provide gender-equal access to, use and control of public and private land will be developed. A demonstration unit will promote environmentally positive urban-agriculture practices. Capacity building of the authorities will help ensure equal participation of women through improved outreach and public education. MI’s strong networks will influence other local authorities in Kenya and the region to secure women’s equal access to, use and control of land and other productive resources.
In South Africa, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) and two other well-established legal CSOs and a CSO land-advocacy platform will be supported to develop policy briefs, legal submissions, tenure rights education programs and advocacy campaigns to remedy systemic obstacles and discrimination against women in informal settlements and more-formal tenure contexts. As in the other three countries, an in-depth gender analysis will result in a gender-equality strategy focused on housing and land tenure. Key policy stakeholders in government, agencies and the legal system will be exposed to new policies and practices that will help fully implement gender equality in land and housing. Technical assistance from, and exchanges with Canadian and regional counterparts will strengthen advocacy and paralegal capacity to support vulnerable women and children.
In Uganda, the project will partner with Shelter and Settlements Alternatives: Uganda Human Settlements Network (SSA :UHR-Net), a group of CSOs, CBOs, academic institutions and professionals to increase the ability of local authorities and community opinion leaders in four peri-urban districts to promote positive action on women’s rights to land, housing and livelihoods. This will be reinforced by building the capacity of community paralegals to support individuals, primarily women, experiencing land and housing rights violations. It will also support women’s groups and communities to negotiate land-tenure claims and advocate provision of increased land, resources and services. This will also encourage more-inclusive community engagement and longer-term social stability. Documenting land tenure and gender equality issues, and training on monitoring Uganda’s international human rights obligations will strengthen CSO advocacy for national gender-responsive policy and legal reform.
The project’s knowledge-sharing and cross-learning regional activities will be amplified by the participation of leading international partners, including the HIC Housing and Land Rights Network, United Cities and Local Governments, the former (2014–20) UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing and the Global Land Tools Network, based in UN Habitat Heasquarters (Nairobi).
RC-AI, the international development program of Canadian cooperative and social-housing organizations will help guide project implementation through a Project Steering Committee. It will also manage short-term technical assistance from the Canadian non-profit housing sector, related legal rights organizations, and some regional sector specialists; learning exchanges to and from Canada and within SSA; and a communications program with the Canadian co-op and social housing sector.
The total 5-year-project budget is $7,202,888 including $5,800,000 (81%) from Global Affairs Canada, and $1,402,888 (19%) in cash and in kind through RC-AI.