Multiple projections suggest that 60 percent of India’s population will live in cities by 2050. SEWA Bharat has been working with informal women workers in low-income and urban informal settlements across India for many years and has identified insecure land tenure as a key barrier to women’s economic empowerment. These informal women workers are home-based workers, domestic workers, street vendors, construction workers, etc. and often reside in slum-like informal settlements. Coupled with poor infrastructure services and lack of access to housing finance, insecure tenure impacts the livelihoods of these women because their home is not only their centre of life and physical security, but also a vital economic asset. Mainstream financial services are typically inaccessible to them due to their informal land tenure status and/or lack of third-party documentation of earnings. There is a lack of awareness amongst women about their land-related entitlements, including access to adequate civic amenities like safe drinking water and toilets, security from evictions, and social infrastructure services like childcare centres and community parks.

The programmes within the land rights vertical are designed to generate evidence about “what works” with regard to improving informal women worker’s urban land tenure related awareness, rights and security, in order to enhance their economic empowerment. The programmes aim to:

  • increase economic opportunities for women leading to sustainable livelihoods;
  • increase individual and collective agency of women through increased knowledge and capacity of skills relating to collectively mobilising and bargaining for their rights;
  • increase women’s control over land and financial assets in households and communities.

One of the current programmes aims to reach informal women workers in informal settlements of Patna and Delhi through community mobilisation in order to raise awareness about their entitlements, improve their access to infrastructure services, upgrade the tenure security of their houses, and facilitate access to formal housing finance.

The Land Rights vertical is also exploring the efficacy of developing an interface between low-income urban communities and local governments to initiate basic services delivery, particularly one that is led and managed by the local women. This action-research methodology aims to identify the existing (issues and) opportunities within existing infrastructure service provisioning processes for marginalised citizens and whether the process of data collection itself can initiate increased community investment and highlight relevant processes for better implementation. Based on the findings of the pilot, SEWA Bharat is in the process of extending and building on the pilot methodology. The focus here will be on the neglected but dynamic context of ‘small cities’ and to mainstream them in the urban development discourse.