Migrant Women in the City: Determination to Exercise Their Right to Housing and Basic Services
Brought about by my curiosity on the country where the refresher course will be held and given the topic on migration and women’s rights, I submitted my application online just in time for the deadline. Two years after completing my master’s degree at the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS), I was given an opportunity to participate in one of IHS’ refresher courses. Together with other fifteen (15) participants with different professional backgrounds from Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, we were given an opportunity to be gathered in Yangon, Myanmar to learn in an international environment and share our expertise on the Refresher Course on Inclusive city: Women and their right to housing and basic services in the city. The IHS, together with the Department of Urban and Housing Development (DUHD) of the Ministry of Construction (MoC) of the Government of the Union of Myanmar, provided a deep understanding on various strategies by different organizations in assisting migrant women cope with the social, environmental and economic challenges in the city.
During the opening ceremony of the refresher course, the participants were able to meet the government agencies and stakeholders responsible in urban planning and providing affordable housing in Myanmar. The participants were given an overview of the Urban Policy and Housing Policy Framework and Programs in Myanmar which basically envisions that by 2040, a sustainable urban and regional development as well as an upgrade on the living standards of the people will be achieved. Also, on-going and proposed housing projects which are funded by the government and through public-private partnership (PPP) were presented by DUHD.
Part of the refresher course is to come up with a research proposal following the research methodologies and instruments introduced by IHS. In order for us to develop a research proposal, we visited several housing projects in Myanmar. On our first excursion, we visited two communities being assisted by the Women for the World, a non-government organization. In-depth interviews, focus group discussions and observations, among others, were conducted by the participants. According to the women in both communities, who are migrants in the city, their family were able to acquire a house through “community savings”. Through the “community savings” strategy, people save money and allow the organization of the community, usually led by women, to manage it. The amount needed to be saved by a family who wants to have an opportunity to own a house ranges from 1,000 Myanmar Kyats (MMK) to 3,000 MMK (0.69 euros to 2.07 euros) per week for a period of 2-3 years. A family that is able to save enough amount of money for the initial construction of the house becomes eligible to avail a mortgage from the “community savings” which could be used to complete the construction, with a monthly payment of 20,000 MMK (13.77 euros) for 5-6 years. However, the construction of the house does not include land ownership and the lack of proper sanitation and sewerage system in the area poses a concern. In order for a family to pay their mortgage, family members who are working must contribute money from their salary as payment. On the other hand, we observed that some women are able to contribute financially by means of earning money through small business/livelihood. For these families, especially the women, owning a house give them security and safety.
DUHD also showed us the affordable housing projects being implemented by the government. According to DUHD, the construction of the houses is funded by private sector while the land is provided by the government.
Our stay in Myanmar is not just all about the refresher course. We also had the chance to see the beauty of the city. Among the landmarks we visited are the Shwedagon Pagoda, Shwe Tha Lyaung and Kyaik Pun.
Gender-sensitivity and women participation in Myanmar has been well-recognized. In fact, it was observed that most of the housing initiatives have involved a greater participation of women which includes community development and livelihood program. I believed that this is a significant move since women as wives and mothers, play important and crucial roles in ensuring safety and security of their homes and families. Women’s participation especially the household led by women are deemed necessary since they are also considered as frontliners of the community. Mainstreaming gender on the development plans and programs, and in the decision-making processes, among others, at the local level must be effectively implemented to increase the resiliency and empowerment of women.
About the author: Ederlyn T. Norte is a graduate of MSc. in Urban Management and Development at IHS in 2014. She is a Civil Engineer and is currently working as Senior Economic Development Specialist at the National Economic and Development Authority in the Philippines.