Infrastructure and Poverty: A Gender Analysis

Published on 1 January 2001

Infrastructure provision has typically been a top-down process dominated by technological concerns and with little engagement in socio-economic debates on development. There is increasing awareness of the failure to provide adequate or affordable infrastructure facilities and services for low income users and of the potentially negative social impacts of inappropriate provision. Various factors, including inappropriate technological choices or regulatory standards, harassment of informal sector providers, lack of property rights and access to credit, poor maintenance and management systems and subsidies benefiting the better off, limit the access of the poor to infrastructure provision, many of which have particular impacts on poor women. The introduction of market principles into infrastructure provision has led to a renewed focus on demand, with the potential to make services more user-responsive. However, there is also a danger of new forms of inequity being introduced.

?Pro-poor? interventions tend to focus on community based provision, with simple, low cost technology and user participation. There is a tendency to impose organisational models for infrastructure development in low income communities, which overlook existing networks and initiatives. More recognition is needed of the diverse organisational forms involved in infrastructure services provision and management in poor communities and the ways in which gender and other social divisions and interests (e.g. caste, class) are represented in these. Greater attention is also needed to intrahousehold processes and decision-making which lead to gender differences in use and control of infrastructure facilities and services. Poverty and equity concerns are also relevant to the regulation and management of parastatal and privatised utilities and mechanisms, through, for example, health and safety controls, policy towards the informal sector, employment and training opportunities and accountability to users.

Mainstream debate has focused on the implications of gender roles for particular sectors, notably water and sanitation, where women have a major role and where there are social externalities to investment through improved health. Women?s participation is seen as essential to render these interventions effective and experience suggests that creative approaches are needed to ensure this. More recently, attention has turned to the transport sector, in recognition that a major part of low income, especially rural, women?s time is used in transportation for both domestic and income generating purposes, often without access to technologies or services which would facilitate this. However, assumptions about potential time savings resulting from infrastructure investment need to be carefully reviewed. Complementary investments may be required to realise economic or social benefits. Other sectors of infrastructure provision, e.g. telecommunications, would benefit from a gender and social analysis.

Planning and management of infrastructure provision exhibit gender bias, for example, in the priority given to improving the mobility of vehicle owners, more likely to be male. A review of criteria applied in prioritising and evaluating infrastructure development interventions, would assist in identifying areas of gender bias. The move towards sector investment programmes in infrastructure development underlines the need to ensure that: sectors are defined in ways which take account of women?s (as well as men?s) activities and priorities; procedures for contracting out services take account of gender and social impacts; and training and employment opportunities for women are promoted, not just in low level or manual jobs, but also in technical and management roles.

Publication details

Masika, R with Baden, S
1 85864 344 9