Issues related to gender do not often get enough recognition within the field of urban development. However, in practice it becomes clear that gender has a very important role to play in this area.


Issues related to gender do not often get enough recognition within the field of urban development. However, in practice it becomes clear that gender has a very important role to play in this area. For instance, there are significant differences between the needs of men and women in the areas of transportation, water and sanitation, healthcare, land, and employment. 

In order to raise the profile of gender in urban development, the Cities Alliance is actively looking for ways to include gender in its global portfolio. This involved a mission to Uganda in July by Hilde Refstie, a Research Analyst with the Slum Upgrading unit of the Cities Alliance. She visited Kisenyi3 slum in Kampala with the aim of looking at gender sensitivity from an urban development point of view. 

Ms. Refstie held two focus group discussions with slum dwellers to find out specific issues they face. The discussions which were facilitated with the help of Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and AcTogether, presented her with the opportunity to meet with men and women of Kisenyi3 separately. 

SDI is a transnational network of local slum dweller organisations coming together at the city and national level to form federations of the urban poor. Whilst men are not excluded from SDI membership, the majority of members are women. AcTogether is SDI’s affiliate in Uganda providing support and technical assistance. 

As a result of the focus group discussions as well as the consultations she had with local government officials and NGO workers, Ms. Refstie was able to identify a few key issues relating to gender with respect to urban development and slum upgrading in Uganda. Among them was the realisation that there is a need for sex-disaggregated and gender-specific data in the urban arena. 

In most cases, data is collected at household units from the head of the household (usually a man) and important intra-household differences are simply not recorded. For example, data on the different health needs specific to women may not be captured by a household survey of this type. Without this kind of supporting data, it becomes difficult to assess and plan properly to meet the needs of men and women. 

Another issue dealt with the lack of economic empowerment for women. For cultural as well as social reasons, Ugandan women have very little access to credit. One of the reasons women lack access to credit is that they rarely own land. Women in Uganda are normally not included in land or structure titles. Ironically, due to the erosion of social structures in slums, the bulk of the family financial responsibility has fallen on women. For example, a 37-year-old woman participant of the group discussions emphasised how difficult it is to keep the men responsible for the welfare of the children: “A man might have several wives, and cannot provide for all of his children. It is then up to us women to take care of them and raise money for school fees.” 

It was clear that for slum upgrading programs to be truly effective, gender considerations need to be taken into account. A necessary first step towards this is to ensure active participation of women in slum upgrading and other projects that directly affect them. As Fatumaa Kaboro, treasurer in the Local Council for Kisenyi3 remarked: “We as women need to come together and mobilise to address these challenges affecting us.” 

Men in slum areas have their own specific challenges related to gender. They can range from high unemployment and alcoholism to drug abuse. It was emphasised during the group discussions that there is a need to understand such gender issues for men and how they affect women’s empowerment. “NGOs are focusing on women and children. Men are being left out. They need to have access to training so they can be sensitised,” said one woman who participated in the focus group discussions.

One positive aspect to come out of recognising the importance of gender is the starting of women’s savings groups within Ugandan slums. They have been quite successful in empowering women. However, several women have experienced problems with husbands wanting to benefit from the savings. Issues such as this cannot be ignored when developing a gender sensitive urban development agenda for Uganda’s slums.

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