In so many ways, 2018 has been the year of the woman. At Habitat for Humanity, we are strong supporters of women’s empowerment and access to decent and affordable homes for them and their families. We were therefore very excited to see the U.S. House of Representatives pass the Women's Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act of 2018 (H.R.5480) – known as the WEEE Act – this past July.
The bipartisan bill seeks to improve support for initiatives at the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, linked to women’s entrepreneurship and economic empowerment and recognizes essential external factors critical to successful female empowerment. As the global community prioritizes self-sustaining development aid, systematically incorporating gender and women’s issues—especially those related to land for shelter and access to credit—into policies is imperative. As USAID undergoes a period of transition, and parts of USAID are moved over to the new U.S. Development Finance Corporation as a result of the passage of the BUILD Act, it is imperative that these issues affecting the lives of women are reemphasized as priorities for the U.S.’ foreign assistance.
After a successful passage in the House of Representatives, the bill is now pending discussion by the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations. As a global advocate for land tenure and housing leader, we urge policymakers to prioritize women’s economic empowerment and access to land to ensure more sustainable development, and to empower USAID to focus on supporting these interests through its programming.
We know that access to land lies at the heart of ending poverty—without land, there can be no housing and housing is the key to stability and opportunity. According to USAID, women’s assets are seldom worth even half the value of men’s assets. Unequal access to land, shelter, inheritance and credit are among the many factors driving the “feminization of poverty,” a term given to the increasing gap between men and women caught in the cycle of poverty. When women have increased access to land and thereby improved quality of life, women share those benefits with children, family members and neighbors, leading to gains in education, health, food access and income for the entire community.
In much of the world, women’s rights to adequate housing will be under permanent threat until governments appropriately enact and enforce laws providing tenure security, in recognition of the possibilities of tenure within the continuum of tenure rights, from formal to informal, and everything in between. Globally, Habitat for Humanity’s Solid Ground campaign is working to motivate policymakers at all levels of government to change policies and systems to improve access to land for 10 million people. One of the campaign's four subthemes is a focus on gender equality in land.
Women’s land rights are central to achieving Habitat’s global goal of ensuring everyone has a place to call home. We recognize that, in addition to land, women’s access to capital and credit is also essential, and a core part of Habitat’s programs globally. Habitat for Humanity’s Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter created the MicroBuild Fund to fill a key gap in financial inclusion: the gap that exists between housing finance and microfinance institutions. The MicroBuild Fund is the first housing-focused microfinance investment vehicle dedicated to helping low-income families. Specifically, the fund aims to open up capital to female borrowers. Women statistically make better use of microloans and have better repayment rates, but they are often excluded from all financial services. The fund has grown rapidly and has provided access to adequate housing for more than 415,000 people. Seventy-three percent of beneficiaries of micro-finance for housing through the MicroBuild Fund are women.
Habitat for Humanity International applauds the efforts behind the promotion of the WEEE Act by U.S. Congress and urges members of the Senate to review and push this legislation forward. Although the new U.S. Development Finance Corporation also seeks to empower women through economic opportunities, USAID has the distinct capacity and a proven skill set to reach these populations. This legislation proves an opportunity to ensure that women’s economic empowerment is recognized as a priority of U.S. foreign assistance.