In this podcast, Dr Paula Meth, Reader in Urban Studies, discusses urban change and gender in the global south.

What happens to relations between men and women when they move from dire ‘slum’ conditions to proper housing? This was the question that inspired recent research with residents in the city of Durban, South Africa and Trivandrum, India. Tensions and power inequalities between men and women are present in all parts of all cities, no matter what the housing quality is like. But many people (poor residents, academics and policy makers) have recognised that the problems of ‘slum’ living can exacerbate tensions, suggesting that material improvements might have real social benefits.

The evidence from this project, funded by the British Academy, reveals that the impacts are rather contradictory, showing just how fragile relations between men and women are in contexts of poverty. On the one hand, improved material conditions make a significant difference, giving residents much-enjoyed privacy, security, and protection from the elements. These can make women in particular a lot safer, as they are removed from the risks associated with living in highly vulnerable situations. On the other hand, the ownership arrangements of new housing meant that new tensions erupted between couples over who controlled the asset, particularly if they were unmarried. New houses also mean new costs (for water, food, electricity for example), and this exacerbated anxieties in the home. These kinds of issues mean that the relationships between men and women, and indeed between adults and children, are strained for some households in new ways, whereas for others, significant improvements are evident.

In the South African case, a 17 kilometre change of location very badly affected residents’ job opportunities worsening experiences of poverty. In contrast, the Indian case had little impact on employment as residents moved into new housing on their former site, which in itself is very close to the city’s central market – a key area for work. In this case however, problems with how allocation occurred meant some families were sharing small new flats with over 10 members – with tension between men and women intensifying.

Overall, a lack of affordable housing, the persistence of poverty and ongoing inequalities between men and women dominate life and undermine the progressive aims of the housing policies. This podcast explores some of these issues in more detail focusing primarily on the South African case and shows just how contradictory the outcomes of policy are.

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