Building homes where everybody is equal

Five million families in the Philippines lack adequate housing, making life especially hard for women and girls. In an innovative new project, We Effect and partner JF Ledesma want to change that – by supporting women and men to live under the same, safe roof, as equals.

– I saw a man shot dead outside our house. People were selling “shabu” in the open outside our door.

Socorro Perez and her family’s one room apartment was not a place of peace. In fact, the neighbourhood “Barangay 5” in the city of San Carlos, on the island of Negros in the Philippines, was the exact opposite. The impoverished community was an easy target for drug traffickers to find and get new users addicted.

But, like millions of families in the Philippines, they had no choice. Their four children, her mother and father in law and her husband Rene’s two brothers’ families, had to share the 25-square meter apartment. 18 people. One toilet. They could not afford to live anywhere else in the city.

– I was worried that our children would get sick all the time, when you live so crammed deceases spread easily.

The neighbourhood, with criminals and drug users in the alleyways and trigger-happy police officers who are out to get them, is an unsafe place for anyone. But if you are a woman or girl, you are worse off. Always at risk of harassment, violence, rape.

– I fought the boys until there was bloodshed, I never had a problem. I guess I was more “like a boy”. But for many girls, this was not the case, says Juvelyn A. Loqueloque, another resident of Barangay 5.

Juvelyn’s story is similar to many others in the neighbourhood, today home to 30 000 people. They come from rural communities where jobs were scarce and the land could not feed everybody in the growing families.

So, they left their homes, to try their luck in the city. And ended up renting a shed in the slums. A home of cardboard, plywood, tires, and tin sewn together with nails and chicken wire.

But things are about to change for Juvelyn. A few years ago she joined SanCa Ville Cooperative Housing Homeowners Association. That was the first step to buy and own her first house ever, a few kilometres outside the city on a beautiful piece of land overlooking the mountains.

Here, Julio and Florentina Ledesma Foundation, with support from We Effect, are building a brand-new neighbourhood for 400 low-income families. In an innovative model called PPPP, public-private-people partnerships, the land was provided by the local government, funds from private donors make housing prices very low, and loans are given at only three percent interest.

– I will celebrate Christmas here in my new house, with my brother’s and parents, says Juvelyn.

A unique aspect of the new neighborhood is how gender equality plays an integral part. The design, with separating walls, street lights, running water and toilets, is protecting women’s rights.

– Gender sensitive houses are designed to make women and girls safe, comfortable, and productive in their homes, explains Jessica Soto, We Effect’s country director in Philippines.

The residents of the community are given the opportunity to do trainings on gender equality, providing tools and discussions between men and women to understand gender roles and responsibilities in the family. The participants are encouraged to build separating walls, giving women and girls safe spaces.

– It’s a challenge to provide separate rooms for women and girls in the slums, you often only have one bedroom. And that is why our project is trying to make sure that women are participating, to ensure that these concerns are addressed, says Jessica Soto.

In one of the yellow houses, Gilberto Repetillo is doing the dishes. It almost looks like an orchestrated ad for gender equality. The only difference, it’s the real thing.

– I used to roam around, drink, like so many other men in the Philippines. But now I think it’s a waste of time. I´d much rather be here in our new house, with my children and my wife.

The pristine, yellow façades are bathing in light, giving the neighbourhood an air of a fresh start. Nothings here reminds me of the dark, narrow alleyways in Barangay 5. Two houses up the road, I am invited to dinner with Socorro, Rene and their youngest child. Mary Louise, 11.

– Before, I was so scared when she left home. Now, she can ride around on her bike, walk our dog and play with friends. She is safe here.

The problems in Barangay 5 and other similar areas in the Philippines still prevail. The need for new land, and the finances, to build new houses, that safeguards the rights of both men and women, are huge.

– It costs 12 000 dollars to construct a new house with a gender sensitive design. Our goal in the coming five years is to build at least 1,000 of them. We are now working hard to find donors and land to build the houses on to make this happen, says Dr Billy Tusalem, director of JF. Ledesma.

FACTS: Gender Sensitive Houses, JF Ledesma’s model:
– Privacy for women and girls, separate rooms for women/girls to make them less vulnerable.
– Access to running water and toilets, safeguarding women and girl’s hygienic facilities during their periods.
– Considers functionality in design of houses to facilitate shared work among all members of the family, allocating areas where stereotyped women and men duties take place in common spaces.
– Provides basic services to protect and support needs of women and girls, well lighted street lights, day care, reproductive health, centers to prevent and address gender-based violence.
– Sanca Ville has a sister neighbourhood. In Basey, on the island of Samar 130 gender sensitive houses are completed and more to be expected

Housing and gender equality (UN Habitat):
– Over 860 million people now live in slums. Despite efforts that have improved the living conditions of 230 million slum dwellers, the number of dwellers has increased by 132 million since the year 2000.

– Since women participate less in decision making and have less access to assets and resources, they also have less access to land and housing. Low-income women and men in slums and informal settlements live with the most tenure and housing-related insecurity.

– The implementation of women’s rights in the land, property, and housing sector remains one of the more difficult challenges. This is due to patriarchal attitudes and cultural practices, as well as the lack of political will and commitment on the part of many government.

– Gender-based violence compromises women’s access and right to adequate housing. In domestic violence cases, if the marital property is only in the man’s name, the woman and her children effectively lose their home or property when the only way for her to defend herself is to leave her partner or husband.