Habitat Study - A Report on the Rural Poor in Tamil Nadu : The perception of Women on habitat

The Habitat Study was formulated by A&D to create a realistic picture of life and the habitat situation in villages that were Tsunami affected and looked to evaluate how the experience and know-how acquired during the life reconstruction process has changed the perception/ attitude of the affected and aid beneficiaries about habitat issues. More importantly, it was about building a conscious and reflective outlook of these populations about habitat concerns.

 Shirley Rebello

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As the scope of the whole habitat study was really wide, and considering the time constraints that had to be faced, the study focused on one specific point inherent to the huge project and aimed to provide an analysis that allowed an understanding of the rural poors’ perception on habitat among NGOs. It also contrived to build a conscious and reflective outlook of the concerned population about habitat issues.
The guidelines of the research were based mainly on the
following :

Definition of people’s perception on habitat issues : How do they understand their environment ? Do they have an holistic perception of habitat ?

Identification of the level of knowledge on habitat and assessment of the capacity to establish causality links between the different habitat issues : How do they relate the different habitat issues ? Do they understand the cause of their habitat-related problems ?

Moreover, It was decided to focus the study on women’s perception, for three main reasons that highlighted the relevance of a women’s emphasized survey :

Gender-specific form of interaction with the environment :
As per social norms, women are concerned with the provisioning and care of the household, and since all kinds of change have a particular impact on women, their perception is thus paramount and highly revealant of socioeconomical particular schemes.

Neglect of women’s perception :
The social and economic position of women is much lower than men, in spite of the fact that they contribute more than men to the welfare of the family and thereby, to the habitat. Therefore, concerned effort has to be undertaken to consider their perception, in order to recognize their legitimity in the society.

Awareness through women :
An effort is required to assess knowledge and awareness among women who have a great influence on their families (specially children). Thus, the emphasis on women is justificated by the finality of this study.

The study first focused on women’s perception on habitat issues, mainly pertaining to the house. House related needs and desires were identified, as well as the ideal image of the house. The problem­ solving capacity of women were also assessed in order to identify a way of acting and thinking, a kind of logic.
Next, the level of knowledge among women was identified, particularly on habitat ­related issues, namely water and sanitation, waste management and energy use. There, the way women assess the quality of their environment and the elements/conditions that they require in order to allow an “optimal” well-being considering the general living conditions of the poor were analysed.
Thus the complete survey will help to identify knowledge gaps among women, in order to provide, later on, an understanding of local issues. This understanding process envisages the creation of favourable conditions to improve the quality of life and habitat that will be shaped by the people themselves.

The perception of women on habitat is complicated. Indeed, women, in spite of a general low level of education, tend to show an increasing awareness on habitat and habitat-related issues. Children constitute the main dynamics to their awareness, as women want to optimisize their living conditions, and increase their educational status. Thus, women show a great understanding of the social and economical constraints.
However, in spite of a general tendency to innovate, women are stuck between tradition and modernity, between awareness and ignorance, between fear and innovation. In a way, this portrays the general context of the rural Indian society. Actually, the Indian rural population lives in a state of ambiguity, characteristic of the process of transition from traditional to modern values and lifestyles. Traditional values, particularly norms and beliefs, still prevail in the investigated area.
Therefore, more knowledge has to be disseminated among the target group that constitute women, and who are are willing to learn and who will in turn influence their families in a reasonable sense, as they have shown an impressive understanding of the current social stakes.

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