DOING HOUSING RESEARCH IN NIGERIA: THE REFLEXIVITY OF A FEMALE
NNEKA UCHENNA IFEKA,
GENDER STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF HULL, UK.
PRESENTED AT THE CONFERENCE ON ‘HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT FOR
LOW-INCOME GROUPS IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA’ ACCRA-GHANA 22-26 JULY, 2002.
‘The household itself, its formation and composition, is part of a woman’s
survival strategy’ (Schlyter in Landau 1997: 6)
‘….individuals and households who lack safe, secure and healthy shelter with basic
infrastructure such as piped water and adequate provision for sanitation, drainage and the
removal of household wastes’ suffer from ‘housing poverty’
------UNCHS (Habitat) March, 2001:1
‘a question of recognizing fully the notoriously ambivalent relation of a researcher’s text to
the realities studied.
Reflexivity means interpreting one’s own interpretations, looking at one’s perceptions, and
turning a self- critical eye onto one’s own authority as interpreter and author’---
Alvesson, M. and Skoldberg, K. (2000:1)
When I started work at the Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute (NBRRI) in September
1996 as a Senior Research Officer, I had no idea that five years later I would be a Ford Fellow
doing Mphil research in Gender and Housing. Although I was inexperienced nevertheless I
definitely knew that there were so many things that needed to be questioned about the way the
housing policy in Nigeria was constituted in relation to the mandate of the institute (where I
worked) and the importance being paid to housing research generally.
My own personal experience of ‘housing poverty’ has been useful in terms of self-awareness
about the realities of everyday life which low-income people particularly women have to face in
order to sustain their lives in world that is becoming increasingly urbanized and globalised. Later
my awareness of civil society organizations began to grow and it was during one of my visits to
some of these organisations that I came in contact with a little green and white book titled Women
and Housing in Nigeria edited by Jadesola Akande and others. This book reinforced my feelings
and made me to think deeper into some of the things that might be wrong with the Nigerian
Housing system. Later, my experience of working with local women through a non-profit
organization provided a much more meaningful and practical way to engage with women from the
In this article I focus on my experience of doing housing research in Nigeria and the meaning of
that experience for our understanding the Nigerian housing problems I discus my involvement
with non-profit activities working with low-income women and examine the questions that arise
from that involvement. I discus my present research work and relate it to the theme of the
conference and how I think that work will benefit my country. Throughout the paper, I will be
making reference to the benefits of gender-aware theory in social research and primacy will be
accorded to personal experiences. And finally I will try to imagine a better future for Nigeria by
thinking through these experiences and the lessons, which may be useful in evolving a
responsible and sustainable housing programme for the country.
I must admit that some people may find my approach problematic. In fact, to some traditional
methodologists my discussion may seem irrelevant, self-indulgent, but while admitting some
personal biases, I would like to argue, following Williams (1993:578) that ‘the means of doing
research’ must include researchers’ selves and experiences. And also it is my own way of
recognizing the importance of an experiential aspect of ‘method’ in social research. So the biases
are in fact my strong points because it is my way of conveying to the readers of research account
how it happened. I state that I will not stop at my own feelings but will question and analyse them
as I go along while recognizing opposing views. Having said that I believe that whom I am and
how I came to be doing what I am doing is crucially relevant.
Following Sasha Roseneil (Roseneil, 1993) I accept that the first principle of feminist research is
that it formulates research questions from the women’s experiences, since the traditional social
science has derived its research questions solely from the perspective of men. The aphorism,
‘the personal is political’ is significant for me because it is about self-awareness (whom you are)
to start with, your background and how your social situations correspond with an understanding of
the ideological and institutional apparatus shaping those situations (Hooks, 1984). Even more
crucial is the fact that this approach allows you to investigate yourself thereby affirming the
importance of women’s everyday experiences as a material for research Roseneil, ( op cit).
The use of one’s life experiences in intellectual work should not be seen as an end in itself but to
continually subject those experiences to scrutiny, and continually interpret and re-interpret them
both at the macro-level of the institutions and at the micro-level as well. I believe that some
scholars would agree with me on the legitimacy of personal and subjective materials within the
Having said this, it is equally important to acknowledge that women who had not fully examined
their situation never developed an understanding of their political reality and its relationship to that
of women as a collective group hence the need to contextualize this thinking ( Hooks, 1984).
MY RESEARCH EXPERIENCE AT THE NIGERIA BUILDING AND ROAD RESEARCH
Here, I will share my experience of working with NBRRI and demonstrate the importance of that
experience for research generally and housing research in particular.
WHAT IS NBRRI?
NBRRI was established on 1 April 1978 by the National Science And Technology Agency
(NSTDA) and in the October of the following year, it came under the Federal Ministry of Science
and Technology which replaced NSTDA. This was during the Third National Development Plan
period (1975-80) during which a total of 202,000 housing units were programmed for
construction, and less than 15 percent were completed (Falade, in Akande, et al,1996).
The mandate of its establishment was to conduct applied research and development in the
building and construction sectors of the economy. Specifically, it is required to conduct research
on the following:
Local building and construction materials to determine the most effective and economic
methods of their utilization.
Architectural design of buildings to suit Nigerian climatic conditions with respect to
lighting, ventilation, thermal comfort and humidity.
The design and performance of functional units in buildings including electrical
installations, plumbing, painting, drainage, ventilation and air-conditioning system.
The economic and social aspects of the building and construction industry.
The design and construction of roads best suited to the Nigerian environment
The economic and social aspects of the road and transportation schemes, accident and
All classes of engineering materials- metals, ceramics, polymers including material
This brief examination of NBRRI’s mandate shows an intelligent and ambitious articulation of how
the housing needs particularly of the low-income group can be met in a country very eager to
develop its housing sector in the aftermath of independence and civil war. In fact, the broad goal
from the way I understand it was to make Nigeria self-sufficient in housing provision.
Such possibilities become heightened when we think of the fact that the institute provides
consultancy services relating to these areas of mandate to the federal, state and local
governments. They are also to provide support services to medium and small- scale enterprises
in the areas of training, testing and evaluation of products, material property and characterization,
materials selection and so and so forth.
It will be useful to examine the attitude of the government now in knowing whether these
mandates are being met. What is the role of government in this context? What is the nature of
housing poverty that has confronted the ordinary people of Nigeria since the inception of NBRRI
and how has the institute attempted to meet these needs? I am not pretending that NBRRI should
replace the Ministry of Works and Housing in the Nigeria but I am contending that it should be
part of the solution to the housing problems in the country through its researches. How this works
out in reality will again depend on the leadership and governance and their political interest. Is it
possible for the government to support the institute to become semi-independent and how is this
going to work out in practice?
The institute has its National Headquarter in Abuja while the Research Laboratory complex is at
Ota, Ogun State. The institute maintains national display centers at Nnewi, Kano, and Lagos. At
present there are five department namely:
Finance and Administration
Planning, information and production
Over the years, NBRRI has made some achievements in research and development activities.
The highlights include:
Design and fabrication of brick-making machines which were developed in conjunction
with the University of Lagos.
Design and fabrication of fibre concrete roofing tile (MadorTile) named after its first Chief
Executive, Mr, Madedor.
Design and construction of a 2.5 tonne capacity vertical shaft prototype kiln for the
production of lime , an alternative to cement
Systematic analysis of sub-grade soils
Successful application of remote sensing techniques
Road failure studies/documentation
Road accident studies and many more.
The most significant achievement of the institute has been the ‘Made-in-Nigeria Housing project.
Under this scheme about 19 of such houses have been constructed with 60 –70 % locally
sourced materials. How do we sustain the idea of ‘made-in-Nigeria’ housing and make it the
business of any government that comes into power in the country?
I was employed in NBRRI initially as a planning officer but this was later changed to research
officer following the creation of the socio-economic research unit in 1996. I had been trained in
history ( under the professorial eyes of E. J Alagoa with E.H. Carr’s “What is History? as one of
the a key texts). At the Masters level, I was trained in Modern International Studies/International
Law so it was a bit of problem getting used to the pure ‘Social Science Research Techniques’
used by my colleagues who were trained in this later tradition with so much emphasis on graphs,
charts and percentages. I did not in anyway feel inferior because I could still remember that
history is about the past, the present and the future of humanity and as a valid social science
discipline even provides the base line information for the so called pure social sciences which
tend to study the present in socio-economic and political contexts.
My way of redressing what seemed like a ‘lack’ was to interrogate the ideas I read about the
Nigerian housing situation and how NBRRI’s work can be made more useful to the ordinary
people. However, I must confess that on some occasions I felt as if I needed some training but it
never came. I hated calculations and figures but I would not say that anybody ‘socialized’ me into
that attitude. With more awareness of my personhood, I have learnt to challenge that part of me
as I deem fit.
The mandate of the socio-economic research unit was to investigate the socio-economic, cultural
and environmental aspects of building and road construction. Other colleagues mostly engineers,
builders and architects felt at this time that the creation of the socio-economic unit was awkward
hence the frequently asked question. ‘What are you people researching sef?’ ‘What is this socio-
economic research? Other felt that we have taken over part of their job because the Building
Department of the Institute used to conduct some aspects of socio-economic research. It would
have been a fruitless exercise to argue that post-occupancy evaluation of a building done by a
builder or an architect will fundamentally differ from that done by a sociologist, historian and a
geographer for this was the composition of the unit.
I cannot speak for the other colleagues in my unit but I knew that I always had this burden to
prove 'our detractors' wrong which is that the socio-economic element of building houses, roads
and bridges are as important as the houses, the roads and the bridges themselves. I felt that the
relevance of the new socio-economic unit must be shown to my colleagues. But what can we
make out of their attitude? What does this tell us about our engineers, builders and architects not
only in NBRRI but in other public and private sectors of the economy who tend to have a very
narrow specialist focus? How do we get them to appreciate the ‘humanity’ in their work? What is
multi-disciplinary approach and how does our understanding of it shape our work? How
problematic is it for an engineering student to take a module in history or anthropology?
There is no doubt that technology plays a central role in development and that men and women
are users of technology in their everyday lives yet very little attention is paid to how technology
affects the role of men and women in the society (Everts, 1998). A prevalent assumption is that
men and women would benefit equally from technological development but this has been found
not to be true. Studies have shown that projects designed as if women had no constraints for
participating in them regularly fail to achieve desired results due to unequal relations between
men and women (Tomasveski, 1993).
It is a known fact that women’s multiple roles of production, reproduction and community
management involve the use of technology either as an opportunity or as a threat (Moser in
Everts, 1998). Since gender presupposes that the specific contents and meanings of male/female
differentiation are not only historically determined but can change, it may well be argued that the
fulfillment of gender needs can bring about changes in gender structure and this forms the basis
for the distinction between practical and strategic gender needs (Everts, ibid). Practical gender
needs according to Moser are needs identified to help women in their existing situation while
strategic gender needs are needs identified to transform existing gender relations. This goes
beyond the question of male prejudice to looking at institutionalized basis of male power. For
example if majority of the women had good education and well-paid jobs, then they could perhaps
challenge male control of resources like land and housing leading to greater gender equality.
Ayesha Imam (Imam, 1997) has however problematised this distinction between the practical and
strategic gender needs wondering who has the abstract authority to define the needs as such.
While this may seem to be the case, I believe that recognizing political element (power play) in
social relationships means adoption of gender aware planning, re-negotiation at the level of
household as well as building partnerships in order to move forward in a healthy way. These
arguments however must be put into their proper historical contexts in order for them to be useful.
In other words one must break up the notions of gender into its component parts and not accept it
as given because there could be other variables like age, class, dis(ability) which are equally
useful in understanding social relations in a particular context (Alsop, et al 2001).
Gradually, as I began to visit the British Council library in Lagos and some non-profit
organizations my awareness grew and I started thinking broadly about the relevance of NBRRI’s
research activities to the community. I was confused about the attitude of my male colleagues.
Most of my suggestions were either met with silence or trivialized for the political reason that I
was the sectional head of my unit and interested in women’s issues. It was much later that I found
out that from inception in 1978 to 1996, that NBRRI had only one female research staff. The
general view was that the then Chief Executive saw women as a problem and systematically
excluded them from employment particularly in the research field. While this may seem like an
outrage, it is important to note is that there is a great difference in ‘having women on the staff’ and
‘taking women’s needs into account’ (Everts, 1998:89) Few other women were employed as
typists, cleaners and telephone operators.
However, from 1996 onwards there was both an administrative and ideological change. Both
male and female young and fresh from school graduates were employed not only in research but
in other departments. Though not particularly young but I was very pleased to be a part of this
The first major task that was undertaken by my unit was the comparative study of urban
residential problems in Nigeria. Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt and Lagos were to be studied. We
were funded to undertake Abuja and Port -harcourt study and then funding became problematic.
It was painful to discover that actual research gets a low priority from the policy makers at the
federal level. To date, this important research is yet to be completed. NBRRI may not be a good
example to access the performance of the research institutes in Nigeria due to some internal
problems that have confronted the institute in recent years. This notwithstanding, many writers
have spoken out about the attitude our leaders to research. It is worries me how Nigeria can ever
develop without investing in research and development ( R&D).This, in my opinion, feeds back
into the ‘brain drain phenomenon’
Emeagwali, (2001) has commented on this issue by stating that one third of African professionals
trained abroad would like to live outside Africa. What this means according to him is that African
Universities are actually training one third of their graduates for export to the developed nations.
In this way, the African education budget is nothing other a supplement to the American and other
European countries making them richer. It is estimated that Nigeria has 100,000 immigrants in
the United States and 65% of those who are foreign born aged 25 and older have at least a
bachelor degree (Emeagwali, op cit). This attitude which he blamed on the socio-economic
situation which stifles potentials results to three interlocking issues of ‘intellectual flight’ (brain
drain), ‘intellectual capital flight’ and ‘money flight’ all linking to corruption and the vicious circle of
unemployment, poverty and disease.
The need for Nigeria to train and retain those trained is fundamental to societal development and
very much connected to an inclusive development agenda and there are no short cuts. It is either
we have an honest leadership that share these ideals and is ready to promote them or we
continue the way we are. But I believe that Nigeria can be and will become better. It is this ability
to imagine a better future that motivates me.
There were moves at one point in my institute to give what was called minor research grants to
the researchers when it became difficult to get ‘big’ money for research; a very positive move
indeed but again this could not be sustained on a regular basis. My topic for the application of this
grant was ‘Women Involvement in NBRRI Research and Technololgy’ but it never got to my own
turn. People became confused not knowing what to do with themselves. A situation where young
men and women full of zeal and energy are denied life time opportunity to contribute to the
development of their country due lack of interest or what can be better termed under-funding of
research is an outrage.
Like I stated earlier, the Research Complex is located at Ota in Ogun State so it was very difficult
to ‘run around', as Nigerians would normally say. Accessing e-mail messages and surfing the
web was difficult and unaffordable to most people. It is remarkable that despite all these problems
that the people exhibited a lot of agency which cannot in any way be equated with self-
perpetuating suffering. They also could imagine a better future so they never gave up. The feeling
was as if we were excluded and forgotten.
The socio-economic unit made a deft move by initiating an information network club to enable
members to access web information quicker and cheaper through joint subscription for e-mail
address. Our motto was ‘information is freedom’ This was supported by a wide range of staff from
smallest to the Directors and a huge awareness about the importance of information was created.
However, difficulties not unconnected with strikes and other changes taking place in the institute
made it difficult to realize some of our short- term objectives and our activities remained largely
small-scale. Some workshops on information and communication were organized for the benefit
The Gender Development Initiative was also initiated by the socio-economic research unit to raise
awareness about gender and gender issues and how that can be incorporated into NBRRI’s
research mandate. An arrangement was made in to invite Dr Bibi Bakare-Yusuf who as this time,
was a Phd scholar in Gender studies at the Centre for the Study of Women and Gender at the
University of Warwick, UK to give a talk on ‘Engendering NBRRI”s Research Activities’ in
In January 2001, Dr Jeremy Wheate was also invited to give a talk on ‘Architecture and Space’
using the Foucauldian framework. Some of our members who have special skills give series of
workshops like food preservation skills, communication skills, home-made drinks, and so on. We
were also able to get some of our members to attend outside seminars and courses which
changed their lives for good. These might sound unimportant but in term of our own standard at
NBRRI, they were very important. That we were able to do that much for ourselves giving the
circumstances facing us at the time is something worth reflecting upon as a good example of
resourcefulness and looking inwards for self-development.
At a stage I had to do a write up to the management on the importance of gender in human
settlements issues based on my belief that issues around gender and development coupled with
UN efforts force us to think differently about NBRRI’s research activities and technology both of
which have the potential to bring about enormous changes in social relations in the communities.
The paper addressed issues of ‘Community Shelter (working with low-income groups like female
heads of household) to build affordable homes or to improve what they already have), Training of
women masons as is done in Kerala, India, Squatter/Slum upgrading, Housing Co-operatives, re-
designing the brick making machine to be more gender friendly,Gender training for staff and
building partnerships with local and international non-profit organisations.
This write-up was based on the fact that planning at the level of household and family often
ignores the internal dynamics that determine access to resources to the individuals that reside in
the household with issues such as female headships and obstacles facing them being ignored.
Intrinsically linked to this is the fact that NBRRI’s research will be of no importance if the
communities are not involved in such a way as to benefit from it.
Gender issues in housing are global issues affecting every section of the society and this is
underscored by recent reports. The seven-years research project undertaken by the UN Gender
and Habitat programme in 16 low-income communities in Africa, Latin America and Asia revealed
what Miraftab Faranak called ‘counterveiling trends of increase in female headship and dramatic
decrease in feasible and affordable housing options for them (Mitchel, 2001). In the three
settlements studied in Ghana, 47 per cent of the women are identified as heads of households
with 23 percent being owner-occupants (Mitchel, ibid). The 1996 figures for Nigerian female
heads of households is 18 percent ( Akande, 1996) which I personally think is a gross
The terrible lesson I learnt from Lagos ‘petty-landlords’ is that as a woman, it is essential to have
evidence of marriage with you before you can be able to rent an accommodation. Most landlords
go as far as asking for marriage pictures as a proof that marriage actually took place. Some
women are able to evade this law by approaching the landlord with any man they can find and
pretend that they are partners. However, this can only work where the landlord does not live in
the premises. This is purely a cultural bias that oppresses women and make their lives difficult.
Afro-American feminist writer, Bell Hooks (Hooks,1984:3) noted the implication of this type of
treatment and stated as follows, ‘… in this way male supremacist ideology encourage women to
believe that we are valueless and obtain value only by relating to or bonding with men.
Akande, (1996) similarly cites both a cultural and moral reason for treatment of single women,
which underline the assumption that if times are hard, the woman may resort to prostitution and
invite men into her residence. This is a proof of how culture oppresses women and denies them
equal access to shelter in the Nigerian cities. Accounts such as these that reveal urbanization
and housing as gendered phenomenon are usually not found in the majority of housing
discourses in Nigeria.
What is the impact of cultural gender relations on women and men's access to land and housing
resources in Nigeria? How is governance implicated in this? What is a responsible and
accountable government? What hope is there left for the poor and low-income groups in Nigeria?
How can we pay attention to their lived realities rather than creating policies that further
impoverish the poor? What will it cost to initiate development policies that foster self-reliance and
self-esteem? There is so much optimism even globally about what the poor can do to transform
their living environment (particularly squatter settlements) since the introduction of the site and
services scheme in the 70’s. Whose interest is there in the ‘bulldozing’ of squatter settlements?
Every Nigerian has a role to play but I think that more importantly, there has to be a political will.
NBRRI has much bigger role in not only in advising the government and reminding them of its
mandate but making sure that the advice is heeded and there is a positive outcome.
MY NON-PROFIT INVOLVEMENT:
This section sheds some light on the workings of a non-profit organisation which I set up in 1999
and how that experience is linked to housing issues in Nigeria. It also comments on non-profit
I was instrumental in the setting up of a local initiative-Women Economic Empowerment Action
(WEEMA) working to develop the individual and organizational capacity of local women around
sustainable economic methods through the female human rights approach. We believe that
feminization of poverty is linked to culture and that economic empowerment is fundamental to
barrier breaking so our efforts are intended to provide access to credit and other resources for
poor women who are self-employed in the informal sector. Our Activities are centered on:
Group Formation and Development.
Skills development and acquisition.
Our experience of working with local women in Egbeda (outskirts of Lagos) has afforded us the
opportunity to appreciate the difficulties facing women in this particular area, which may be similar
to other areas. In the process, we were able to learn the following lessons.
First and foremost, it is not possible to understand the realities facing women in the low-income
groups while sitting in cozy offices otherwise you end up articulating the needs of different class
of women. For women who lack formal education and do not own land, lack of collateral for credit
has been a long-standing barrier to credit apart from lack of borrowing knowledge and
experience. This situation is made worse by the fact that formal lending institutions are not
sensitive to the needs of women. Although some of the banks are beginning to collaborate with
the non-profit sector in community development initiatives, the venture is still new and will take a
long time before the benefits are realised.
This is obviously linked to issues surrounding land and housing which have been described as
important economic assets and fundamental political tool that can affect both rural and urban
power relations UNCHS, (1999). We discovered that for a household not to have access to
adequate housing is directly linked to other forms of relative poverty which they experience. My
own personal experience is that adequate housing is an empowering tool and it is the basis for
any other self-accomplishment.
Housing is such a basic need for humanity that to have or be provided with adequate housing is
not a luxury but an absolute necessity. For women, housing holds physical, emotional and
psychological meanings as well as a site for reproductive and productive activities. Unlike micro-
credit, we believe that housing is not a poverty alleviation matter but an effective strategy towards
the women’s control of their lives. The failure of government provision of housing which normally
excludes the poorest of the poor in Nigeria means more hardship for female household heads
who constitute the majority of poor households. Needless to recount how both customary and
statutory laws deny women in Nigeria equal access to land which is a form of savings because it
appreciates a great deal and also a form of collateral for credit.
Even more fundamental is the role of economic globalisation with its attendant polices of
structural adjustment and liberal democracy which more often than not force the government to
be more answerable to international financial institutions than their subjects. In fact, one wonders
whether it is possible to achieve poverty reduction with the way economic globalization is
It is equally important to recognise the role of men and to enlist their support as much as possible
because some of them feel threatened as their wives gain greater economic independence and
this could lead to domestic violence. Some of the women for instance who needed to take loan
from us could not access it because their husbands refused to grant them approval.
The non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Nigeria are doing marvelous works to bring a
change in the lives of ordinary people. However, their activities seem to have become
increasingly privatised to the extent that it is difficult for collaboration to take place among two or
more organisations working in the same area. Also it is worrying that there very few advocacy
groups working on shelter issues despite the importance of such in ensuring household survival.
Hearn, (2001) found out in his studies that civil societies committed to the promotion of liberal
democracy and economic liberalism are the most popular with donors. Similarly, Allen (1997)
concluded in his own findings that it is the proponents of liberal democratic reform particularly
those external to Africa that needs ‘civil society’ The implication of this is that a non-profit
organisation working on shelter issues is less likely to get funding from donor agencies. What the
Women Economic Empowerment Action is starting to do is documentation of lived experiences of
local women in relation to housing as a step towards other interventions.
The professionalism that is now attached to NGO work is an indication that most of the people
who engage in it have very good education and leadership potentials. Having said that, it is
equally important to mention that individual opportunism undermines collective struggle and the
NGO workers have a special responsibility or calling to work for the less privileged in our society.
Development work is much more than a lifestyle. It is not about dressing for success or becoming
a corporate executive neither is it about stepping into a role. If it is difficult for people to identify
themselves first and foremost by what they have done for humanity and choose to see their work
as private then target groups for such work will continue to suffer even when funds have been
made available to remedy their situation. The NGO community should be seen and must be seen
to have a totally different interest from the government and private organizations and it is
important that the marginalized people whom they are working for see them as such.
The Nigerian women have a very long history of organising and have demonstrated some
resistance and agency against the negative impacts of globalization and bad governance which
the NGOs and other Civil Society groups can use to launch sustainable interventions.
WHY A GENDER PERSPECTIVE?
Gender connotes the social and historical construction of masculine and feminine roles,
behaviours, attributes, ideologies, etc. which refer to some notion of biological sex (Imam, 1997).
Feminists are very careful to distinguish between gender and sex. The latter is biologically
determined. While the content and meaning of gender is always changing over time depending
on the circumstances, sex tend to be fixed however both have been challenged for the limitations
and boundaries they produce (Asop et al, 2001).
The emergence of the Women in Development (WID) and Gender and Development (GAD)
concepts made it possible for scholars to discuss development issues from new and different
perspectives. WID laid emphasis on including women in the existing development approaches
especially on increasing women’s productive capacity (Porter and Ellen, 1999). On the
other hand, GAD recognized women as a diverse group allowing a consideration of both men and
women’s needs and responsibilities.
According to Parker, in Porter and Ellen, (1999:10) ‘GAD analysis addresses unequal gender
power by seeking to transform unequal relations’ Feminists have engaged in reflective and
structural critique of WID/GAD practices being adopted by national governments and international
development agencies arguing that it is not enough to ‘add women and stir’ (ibid). This underlines
the need for national governments to consistently ensure that gender considerations are part and
parcel of development projects.
The have been spurious debates as to what gender is and what it is not. Even among Western
feminists who first started to use it, there are great divisions as to the limits and boundaries of
gender (Robinson 1997). It is a fact that the academia in the developing countries rely on
disciplinary theories and conceptual debates originating and dominated by the West but as far as
women and gender issues are concerned, black feminist scholars have done tremendous amount
of work to challenge the western notion of gender. For instance, Oyewumi, (1997) in her work,
rejected what she calls the imposition of Western gender discourse particularly on the Oyo
Yoruba. Her thesis is that seniority based on relative age is more important than gender in
understanding the peculiarities of the Oyo society in the pre-colonial era.
Serious remarks have also been made about how ethnocentric assumptions were universally
applied by Western writers and researchers on the anthropology of African peoples and other
Third World communities by Amadiume, (1997). Her work on Male daughters, Female husbands (
in Nnobi, South Eastern Nigeria) demonstrated how ‘gender identities are situated in both time
and place with the content of masculinities and femininities changing over time (Imam, 1997).
Hooks, (1982) in the context of Afro-Americans has persistently wonders why White women are
given money to study black women history while black women never receive such funds to do
research on white women.
Esonwanne, ((1993) has problematised the ways in which gender relations and subjection of
women have been theorized by some Western feminist scholars through the lens of otherness
generated in the discourse and counter discourse of colonialism and racialism. Another African
Feminist scholar, Obioma Nnaemeka (Nnaemeka, 2001) has used the Igbo proverb, ‘iji nma, jide,
ji’ meaning ‘you have the knife and the yam’ to stress the fact that African poverty does not lie so
much on the fact that Africans are not ‘developable’ but on the way development itself has been
conceived by the West.
I would like to argue that gender as a concept is not foreign to Africa rather it is the ways in which
it has been applied by some western feminist scholars that has been challenged and rejected. I
believe that gender is inherently contextual and can be useful in understanding the relations
between men and women in the society.
The conceptual distinction between sex and gender developed by Western feminist Anne Oakley
in 1972 (in Brett,1991) has universally been taken up and at the same time challenged by a
counter discourse. According to Oakley’s distinction, sex is connected with biology whereas
gender identity of men and women in any given society is psychologically (and that also means
historically and culturally determined).
But she has come under fire from feminists particularly Delphy, (1980) for assuming that sex
preceded gender which misses out on asymmetry and hierarchy. Also, Butler (1980) used both
de Beauvour and Foucault’s thesis to developed a performative account of gender which tends to
deny and denaturalize the male/female binary ( Alsop, et al 2001). Butlers views have also
provoked a great deal of criticism from feminists like Stevi Jonhson and McNay (in Alsop etal,
2000) who think that she has left out the materiality of social relations among several other. Other
feminist criticisms s are quite uneasy about getting rid of the fundamental social category of male
and female because of its importance for understanding the female oppression
Whatever explanation that is adopted, it is important to understudy the peculiarities of a particular
society before reaching a conclusion about gender relations and like Brett, (1991) has argued,
every society uses biological sex as one criteria for describing gender but beyond this simple
starting point no two cultures would completely agree on what distinguishes one gender from the
other and there is considerable variation in gender roles between cultures.
Furthermore, the western domination of gender debates with its politics of ‘othering’ has meant
that that the western women are seen as standards to which women from the south should
aspire. Indeed, studies are beginning to emerge that the Southern women who have been trained
in the western tradition have tended to turn their backs on the less privileged women (see for
instance Marchand and Parpart, 19995).
‘My own submission is that gender analysis tends to offer more in terms of understanding of the
concept of development and the reality of women’s life in relation to men. It explains how men
and women are positioned in the society which affects their access to resources. I believe that it
will be impossible to theorize about women’s position in the society without theorizing about men
to understand how they are being socialized to behave the way they do. Subtle but lurking
somewhere in the gender debate is the fact that men are undergoing crisis and are now being
overtaken by women. It will indeed be absurd to replace one for of oppression with another. The
crux of the matter in my own thinking is involving men and making them to see what they stand to
benefit from working with women. Men occupy almost all the political posts where decisions are
made so it is beneficial to involve them in women's issues. Unless the particular needs of women
who make up half of the population are recognized and taken into account in the socio-economic
planning and development, it is not possible to have a meaningful development.
Finally, paramount importance for planners and policy makers to have clear information about
where and how particular women are situated in the social, cultural, legal and economic terms.
This is because gender is learnt from very early age so that it becomes part of the person’s
identity and like Alsop, (2001) has argued, the division of labour within the public sphere ( as in
the home) is dependent upon our cultural understandings of men and women being different and
thus more suited to a particular type of work. She goes on to argue that how we make sense of
ourselves as men and women is contingent upon the ways in which such cultural representations
and social structures are gendered.
GENDER AND HOUSING
A popular Igbo proverb says that ‘ezi ogeli bu uno’ meaning ‘a good wife makes a home’ Here
the use of ‘home’ implies both the physical, the environmental, the emotional and the
psychological needs which it confers including the idea that a woman should be the custodian of
one of such home. On the surface the proverb appears harmless and presupposes the tasks
facing a woman who decides to get married as some of the conditions for a ‘happy home’.
However, from a gendered perspective, it looks like an endorsement of the statusquo. In other
words, a good marriage is underlined by successful execution of the triple roles of production,
reproduction and community management.
So what has gender got to do with housing in the 21 century? Perhaps, intrinsically tied to this
proverb is the idea that a woman should do everything to protect her marriage which takes place
in the ‘Home’ Here the idea of a good home equally implies a good marriage and that a house
has more meaning for a woman than it has for a man. I think that this proverb also stretches
further to mean that a ‘home’ that is, the private sphere is where the woman truly belongs. If this
is the case why does the Igbo culture for instance disinherit women? Or does the culture
contradict itself? How do we deal with this contradiction? How come some widows lose their
homes and property particularly when their husbands die intestate? What does this proverb tell us
about gender? Mbilinyi, (1998:49) offers an explanation; ‘gender relations are socially constructed
and deconstructed as a result of the behavior of women and men themselves. They are therefore
historical, changeable, subject to abolition and transformation…’
Studies conducted on women and inheritance in Zimbabwe revealed that a woman’s access to
economic resources particularly her own income, seems to be a crucial factor in her ability to
influence the inheritance process (Parpart in Moghadam,1996).This may also be applicable in
other places and it underlines the fact that gender is open to challenge. But on the other hand, do
women have to be educated and economically powerful before they can get their statutory and
customary entitlements? My own mother for instance lost everything upon the death of her
husband because she was too young and had had little education despite the fact that she was
married under the customary and statutory laws. She did show a lot of agency but could do very
little to change the custom. My mother’s painful experience partly explains why I am doing my
research on gender and housing and also for the sake of other women who lack voice and
Recent judicial decision particularly the case of Mojekwu v Mojekwu point the way that customs
and traditions which deny women’s inheritance rights are unconstitutional, void, obnoxious and
not inconsonance with societal progress (Shelter Rights Initiative, (SRI) 2001). How many women
have been able to take advantage of this landmark decision since the ruling? How useful are
legal rights in addressing women’s rights issues? Does customary law override legal rights? Of
what use are legal rights if they cannot be accessed? All these questions lend themselves to
answers, which are open-ended. My submission is that the issue of women and housing in
Nigeria has often been analyzed within the context of inheritance rights as a constituent for of
human rights. This, I think, is problematic for a number of reasons the main one being that it
tends to ‘undermine’ the power and importance of the customary law at a site of female
oppression. Even more importantly it makes it difficult to think of new and innovative ways of
working with the customary law.
This view that there could be a positive way of working with the traditional law is supported by the
fact that while men and women are afforded equality before the law, such provisions are rarely
translated into reality. This was found to be true in Zimbabwe (Bunch, in Landau 1997) as well as
in most Nigerian Cultures (Akande, 1996). Such laws may have to contend with deeply
entrenched patriarchal beliefs.
Gender is important because development planners worked on the assumption that what will
benefit one section of the society (men) will trickle down to others (women) (Brett, 1991) Here,
the assumption is that every woman is catered for by a ‘benevolent male’ and intra-household
politics and power play is ignored as well as women’s gender needs. It is only by assessing and
understanding the gender role in a given society, that the specific needs of women can be
ascertained and met.
It is believed that gender structures our pathways and how we understand ourselves is
dependent upon how cultural representations and social structures themselves are gendered
(Alsop, et al 2001). Ostergaard, (1992) thus sought to explain why gender blind development
efforts are doomed to failure while Haleh, (1991) argues very strongly in the Third World context
that it is necessary to understand the workings of capitalism and imperialism to grasp the
complexities of how women came to be subordinated while Brydon and Chant (1988) drawing
from sources based upon the subjective experience of women demonstrated that gender
inequality is incorporated into development both ideologically and practically.
To conclude this section I would like to assert that gender is a development issue because it
underlines that women are placed unequally in relation to men through the social construction of
their roles. Implicitly, they not only fail to utilize their potentials but they lose out on the benefits of
development. To understand this simple logic is to include women’s needs in the planning and
implementation of projects. It is naivity to assume that women’s needs will be met by men as
‘husbands’ in the 21 century characterized on one hand by global economic deepening and on
the other hand by economic peripherisation of the Third World countries. Indeed, the challenges
of the 21 century will underscore the relevance of extending the application of gender analysis
to men and women and encouraging the creative application of gender equitable policies to new
generations and contexts (Pearson, 2000).
PRESENT RESEARCH WORK
GENDER AND HOUSING IN NIGERIA: THE CASE OF ABUJA.
On the surface, gender issues in housing appear to be self-evident and indeed the use of gender
in academic discussions to confront what has been perceived as ‘women’s problems’ has been
very pervasive. The general thinking is that women in relation to men are disadvantaged in
housing but the root cause as well as the diversity of women’s marginalisation is often left
hanging. Sometimes, housing is discussed in relation to women’s multiple problems so that it
doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
While it may seem as if women have received their fair share of attention and gender
mainstreaming has reached its limit, the reality according to Peggy Antrobus (in March 1991: 281)
is that ‘our work is only beginning’ Indeed, the 21st century will underscore the global relevance
of gender analysis and application in meeting the challenges of globalisation (Pearson,
Land and housing have been described as important economic assets and fundamental political
tool that can affect both rural and urban power relations UNCHS, (1999). Housing is such a basic
need for humanity that to have or be provided with adequate housing is not a luxury but an
absolute necessity. Housing rights enshrined in some of the international and regional legal
frameworks despite their limitations underscores the significance which housing holds for all
Housing problems are not culture bound but the magnitude differs according to geography,
income, race, nationality, gender and so on. Discussions about housing problems in many Third
world countries have arisen from the fact that the conventional housing policies have been based
on public provision and that these policies have failed to address the housing problems
particularly for the low income groups (Gilbert and Gugler 1982, Balbo,2001 , Moser and Peake
1987, Chant, 1996).
Generally speaking, land and housing hold economic, political, social, psychological and even
ritual meaning for the African peoples. In Nigeria, land and housing are at the heart of the
people’s culture linking to birth, death and burial. Access to land in most cases is a prelude
towards access to housing.
STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM:
It is not very clear why the issue of gender and housing took some time to emerge in global
women’s discourses. It has earlier been mentioned that housing issues were initially taken for
granted in global development discourses because shelter is such a basic necessity that it was
simply assumed to exist along with the women and children (Tinker, 1993). It was also thought
that provision of housing would amount to economic wastage and encourage rural-urban
migration (Gilbert and Gugler 1982). This could not stop people from moving to where they
believe the jobs are underscoring the point that people’s needs have to be met wherever they are
(Chant, 1996). In Nigeria for instance it is generally believed that the jobs are in Lagos and Lagos
population is now believed at crisis point though there is no accurate data.
As urbanization grew, squatter settlements grew and government responses differ depending on
socio-cultural situations. Nigeria’s response is usually the ‘bulldozing’ of squatter settlements. We
saw it in Maroko and other places. Many writers have shown that urbanization and housing are
not only intertwined but are gendered phenomenon using examples from Africa, Asia and Latin
America (see Chant 1996a, 1996b, Beal 1996, Watson and Gibson 1995, Chant and Brydon
1993, Gilbert and Gugler 1982) Here, the point being made is that urban spaces are not neutral
but is constructed to exclude some people on the basis of their gender, age, ability, income,
class, ethnicity and so on.
In Nigeria, housing policy has to large extent ignored women’s needs and agency yet housing
remains an important economic asset very central to women’s emotional, physical and
psychological well being. It has been likened to a nexus for social networks of support and
community-based reliance (Mitchel op cit). In the face of increasing economic and social hardship
brought by years of mis-rule in Nigeria made worse by economic globalisation, housing is
increasingly becoming a valuable site for productive activities for the women.
The majority of housing discussions in Nigeria assume that women’s housing needs are taken
care of by the patriarchal male and so women are lumped together with the others as 'dwellers' or
‘tenants’. Perhaps, it is important to also mention that approaches to women issues in Nigeria has
been more activist than academic. The implication is that social research on women particularly
housing is scarce.
For a few of the works on women and housing in Nigeria which exist, the issues have often been
analyzed within the context of inheritance rights as a constituent form of human rights. This work
thinks that this is problematic for a lot of reasons the main one being that
It tends to ‘undermine’ the power and importance of the customary law at a site of women’s
oppression. Even more importantly it makes it difficult to think of new and innovative ways of
working with the customary law.
There are about 450 non- profit organisations in the country and it is worrying to the researcher
that community based groups or non-governmental housing advocacy groups appear to be too
few. In terms of full-scale research work on gender and housing, Jadesola Akande’s works have
been very useful in understanding the impediments of women’s access to land and housing in
Nigeria but she has focused more on women’s legal rights to inheritance. . This means that a
comprehensive study of gender and housing remain undone and gender issues in housing
continue to receive passing comments.
THE PURPOSE OF RESEARCH:
The purpose of this research is to investigate how the cultural gender stereotypes and traditional
notions of land and housing in Nigeria affect women’s (and men’s) access to land and housing in
Abuja the contemporary federal capital city. Specifically it will:
Examine the government housing policy within the background of traditional gender biases
and the failure of governance
Assess the gendered impacts of economic globalisation.
Evaluate how the agency of women or lack of it challenges the government policy and
whether this represents a movement towards social justice and gender equality.
This study will explore new ways of looking at an old problem and aim to put gender back into
the agenda of women’s social research in housing and land acquisition. In so doing it will put
women at the centre of long term sustainable housing development strategy in Nigeria.
This study will focus on selected number of women and (men) resident in Abuja using gender
both as an analytical tool and a form of socio-cultural relations to study women’s access to land
This study is an action research geared to actually put people at the centre of investigation
through the qualitative research methodology in order to produce data with underlying meanings
about ‘who is involved?’ ‘who is excluded?’ ‘who loses?’ ‘who gains’ how? And why?. Apart from
discovering the lived experiences of people through qualitative approach, it will also adopt the
quantitative methods for baseline statistical data.
This method of research has been chosen because it will be more useful in understanding how
social interactions are shaped by culture, history, and ideology and the role of these on the
allocation of resources which are a prerequisite for participation of women in development.
RELEVANCE OF RESEARCH TO CONFERENCE
A Conference on Housing and Urban Development for low-income groups in Sub-Saharan
Africa is timely in view of what appears to be an unstoppable trend towards urbanization in
African cities and shrinking affordable housing market for the low-income particularly the female
heads of households. This conference is also significant in view of the tendencies of economic
globalization which has become both a reality and fact of life and which unlike the marriage of
convenience, there seem to be no divorce. However, it is mind bogging how the housing and
urban development issues of the 21 century can be properly addressed with the way economic
globalization is presently constituted. Equally puzzling is the internal dynamics of corruption in
governance, which is incompatible with the housing and urban development issues we are talking
about. Whatever may be the case, recognizing the needs of women who make up half of
humanity is fundamental to tackling the housing and urbanization issues in Sub-Saharan Africa
both now and in the years ahead.
There are both scholarly, strategic and policy reasons for engaging in my research work. There
is need to constantly investigate the situation of women particularly the poor women through
research by theorizing about their experiences and deconstructing our interpretations of personal
and collective experiences.
As a socio-economic researcher with the Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute which
appears to be gender blind, it is important to ensure that research results such as mine forms part
of their mandate and even more importantly that there is a move towards institutionalizing gender
in the institute. As the founder of a local initiative working to develop the organizational and
individual capacity of local women around sustainable economic methods via the human rights
approach, it is necessary to be aware of new ways that women’s position can be improved in a
society that is becoming increasingly unequal.
I would therefore like to think that my work will be making an important contribution to housing
development in Nigeria and will be relevant for all times. Above all, its agenda is in line with the
agenda of this conference.
Finally, I HAVE A DREAM FOR NIGERIA.
It is a statement of fact that Nigeria is blessed with so much material and human resources. But it
is also generally believed even by Nigerians that Nigeria cannot do anything right. It is further
believed that corruption which is a global phenomenon 'works on two legs' in Nigeria. This means
that it is endemic and tolerable. One can imagine how difficult it will be to govern Nigeria.
Generality of Christians believe that during the 1977 Festival of Arts and Culture, that Nigeria was
officially handed over to satan as their own way of explaining the situation of things in the country.
The state has not altogether disappeared as some globalization scholars would like to have us
believe but the attitude of people seems to be that of suspicion and cynicism as they wait for the
dividends of democracy. The state has often used globalization to explain the persistent fall in the
value of naira in a way to suggest that globalization has an overwhelming influence. Needless to
say that the proliferation of fundamentalist groups and ethnic strife has made the country
unattractive to the so-called Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). It is in this sense that globalization
is argued to undermine state power while the liberal notion of democracy allows for the tolerance
of social inequality.
While working along the 21 Avenue in North Hull in the UK, very close to the university where I
am studying, two children whom I reckoned to be between 10 and 12 years looked at me straight
in the face and asked 'are you one of us?' This is just one example of how black people are
'othered' de-humanised and labeled in foreign lands and it is directly linked to institutional racism
and all forms of exploitation which black people are forced to live it. Whenever, I get the
opportunity I say that my country is very rich but… and then I stop. It is as though Nigeria is a
very big puzzle.
I would like to say that being able to imagine a better future for Nigeria is a way forward. If we all
become pessimistic and negative then we can never be able to do the right things that will bring a
change to the state of affairs.
I had the opportunity of listening to a Labour European parliamentarian from Leeds who came to
Hull to give what seemed like a progress report.
He talked among other things how a new law is underway to protect ‘agency workers’ who
previously did not benefit from holiday pay, maternity leave and so on because they are deemed
to be temporary staff by recruitment agencies. Similar laws will soon be enacted to prevent big
lorry drivers from falling asleep while on the highway due to working too many hours.
As I sat listening to him, what kept coming to my mind were the passion he had for better
services for the voters and the way his messages from Brussels reflected the same steadfastness
and commitment to the welfare of the people. I then began to think about my country, Nigeria. We
have very good policies but implementation is always difficult.
Going through memory lane from my days as a housing researcher and involvement in the
voluntary sector leading up to my research work in 'Gender and Housing in Nigeria' I see myself
as someone who is capable of making a change in the society no matter how small. I think it is
important that I do not miss this crucial point.
Having been exposed to the socio-economic and political problems plaguing my country through
research and the materiality of my own life, the challenge is to work towards a better future and
encourage others to do the same.
My vision for Nigeria is very simple. A society where the political leaders will have genuine
passion for the development of the under-privileged, empowering people rather marginalizing
them, enlarging their choices and providing for their participation in the decision that affects their
lives no matter what is at stake. It may take long but that time will surely come. If it is not humanly
possible, God will make it possible.
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