Samira’s family moved to Dhaka in 2013, in search of a better future. Since the birth of their child, both Samira and their son are often sick and fatigued, but due to her husband’s limited income, Samira couldn’t visit health services and despite her health problems, she was forced to seek employment.

Even a primary glance at the living conditions of people like Samira and Ayesha, shows that the development needs in the urban context are vast and cross multiple topics. Our experience has taught us that a gender lens can play a vital role in focussing our interventions to reach the under-privileged, many of whom are women.

With women forming the core of most households, empowering them, both in rural and urban contexts, through education, skills development, capacity building trainings, and improving access to services and markets, can create better outcomes for every member of the family. At a recent conference organised by IFPRI, titled “Eliminating Hunger and Malnutrition: Are Sustainable Solutions in Sight” for example, results from projects on women empowerment showed a strong correlation to an increase in overall farmer’s income and reduced domestic violence.

As stated by GAIN on their website in 2014, “Women comprise of 40% of the world's labour force and undertake maternal roles central to the development of the next generation. In Africa, most food from smallholder farmers is produced by women, particularly in commodity sectors like coffee and cocoa. The workforce of the coffee industry in Ethiopia, for example, is 80% women.” Our Balancing Benefits approach works with both women and men to build equal income and business opportunities. It explicitly aims to change gender norms and relations in order to promote more equitable relationships between men and women, and a more enabling environment for women. The Enhancing Opportunities for Women’s Enterprises (EOWE) programme for example boosts the start-up and development of women’s businesses in Kenya and Vietnam through a combination of enterprise development, social transformation and policy advocacy interventions.

EOWE is empowering women in Narok county, Kenya

‘EOWE is facilitating social transformation in Binh Thuan province, Vietnam

In the urban context, "Women, Slums and Urbanisation: Examining the Causes and Consequences", a new report by the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), states that “While inadequate living conditions affect all residents, women and girls suffer disproportionately to those burdens which fall on their shoulders because of their gender”. Like Samira and Ayesha, many female migrants end up living in urban slums where they are close to employment opportunities in factories. They often suffer from many health problems due to poor sanitation and hygiene conditions and a low awareness of proper nutrition and food. SNV's Working with Women project (funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Bangladesh) works in 20 factories in Gazipur, Tongi, Savar, and Mirzapur, covering around 24,000 workers. The project improves female workers’ access to convenient, gender-friendly, affordable health services, providing information on sexual reproduction, family planning, nutrition and sanitation, within or near factories.

Samira’s supervisor for example noticed that she would always seem weak and lacked attention towards her work. The supervisor suggested that she visit the health services that were available at their work place as part of the project. Through the medical centre, Samira was able to get a diagnosis and medicines for several illnesses. She also started attending SRHR information sessions along with co-workers from the factory. Ever since, she has not only become healthier, she is also more efficient at her work, providing a clear business incentive to provide these services.

Responding to the needs of women in particular, empowering them and giving them equal opportunity for income generation, will not only help them, but also increase the chances of their families to grow out of poverty and ultimately lead to better living conditions for all. A gender lens therefore can help us to meet the urban development challenge.