chapter  7
18 Pages

‘The devil is in the detail’: understanding how housing assets contribute to gender- just cities


Introduction Over one billion people live in informal settlements in towns and cities of the Global South. Many of them are women and many of them are living in unsafe and insecure housing. Finding new options that are effective at scale for these populations is central to addressing the challenge of achieving gender-just cities. This chapter reflects on the experiences of one social movement seeking to support such a transformation, namely Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI). It elaborates on SDI’s goals and introduces their work to address the interests and needs of some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged urban citizens. It elaborates on the evolution of their strategies as some of the first attempts to secure gender justice proved limited, particularly in relation to getting to scale. To illustrate the experiences, we describe and analyse events in Zimbabwe, where the partnership of the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation and Dialogue on Shelter (referred to below as the Zimbabwe Alliance) is actively taking up and using SDI approaches. SDI is a transnational network of homeless and landless people’s federations set up to 1996 to ‘unite and empower the urban poor to articulate their own aspirations for change and develop their capacity, from the local to the global, to become critical women-led actors in the transformation of their cities’.1 SDI is currently working with grassroots organisations in over 30 countries in the Global South and activities primarily focus on informal settlements. As elaborated below, SDI’s processes of capacity development are centred on practical interventions that nurture experiential knowledge. These interventions are intended to improve access to assets for the households that are involved; however, as important for SDI and its affiliates is that they instigate learning and relationship-building to enable the development of further generations of implementation strategies that work better, are larger-scale, more holistic, and more effective in addressing citizen needs. As we show below, results are mixed. Limitations emerge because efforts are necessarily embedded within current understanding and actions that emerge from existing anti-poor practices and hence at best are only ‘steps’ (i.e. a small movement) towards just cities. However, they are progressive both in representing a collective intent and agreement as to how

SDI and affiliates can contribute to the transformation of urban policy and programming towards more inclusive and equitable towns and cities, and because they are a source for collective learning and reflection. As SDI and affiliates move into their second decade, the development of collective capabilities that enable assets to be secured and used in ways that are consistent with the values and mission of the network has emerged as key. At the city scale, such capabilities include the management of relationships instigated by SDI affiliates with their local authorities (and other state agencies and utilities) and with other community groups and civil society organisations (see Mitlin and Mogaladi (2013) for an illustration from Durban, South Africa). Such capabilities also have to support the institutional changes needed for asset accumulation strategies to support the needs of diverse groups of citizens. Tilly (2004) and Mosse (2010) both argue that changes in such relationships are key to reducing discriminatory and exclusionary patterns of development. The following section explains SDI’s organising approach and its intervention tools, and their relationship to gender transformations and just cities. It describes a transition within SDI’s own strategies for strengthening collective capabilities to manage relationships and acquire assets. To illustrate what transition means in practice, the third section introduces Zimbabwe and elaborates on the SDI experience in this context. The fourth section concludes.