Chapter 6: Conclusions

6.1 Introduction

In the study area, religious and social norms have given rise to special segregated spaces for women. In the concluding chapter, this study presents and interprets the general research findings concerning these spaces and their use. The dwellings of different socio-economic groups from the survey are examined and compared to understand the interaction between status and the dwelling form. Some general reflections are presented to evaluate the performance of the survey dwellings, both in reflecting and reinforcing the societal norms of the segregation of women. The significance of the study is described and steps are suggested for subsequent research.

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6.2 Summary of research

This thesis approached the research topic by first taking a global view of the dwelling form of Islamic societies. The literature review showed that separation of zones for men and women were clearly identifiable by locations of these zones and were fairly constant in the different societies of the Islamic world. Having established this common feature in Islamic housing, the dwelling form in South Asia was investigated. The findings further reinforced the concept of separate domains, both in the home and the neighbourhood, although with certain regional variations. In Bangladesh, the field study revealed that rather than a strict physical separation of domains with the exclusion of either sex, behaviour and space use determined the limits of the domains. The separating physical boundaries exist, but are made flexible by time zoning, use/avoidance and behavioural norms. Age, status and financial standing also determine the rigidity of the spatial barriers between domains.

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6.3 Comparative analysis

In the case study, five socio-economic groups of village society were studied, but in terms of organization of homesteads, the survey data established threemain socio-economic groups: the landlords, the farmers and the landless labourers. Although these three groups share basic norms of purdah and a basic concept in dwelling design, each adapted the different spaces of the traditional dwelling form to their own particular lifestyle. The sequence of spaces within the homestead were same for all three groups; the differences noticed were in the size, use and character of these spaces.

Landless families, as the poorest group, have limited access to resources in land, materials and funds. Their dwellings were generally smaller and less well-built than those of the other groups. Poor landless families live in small nuclear homesteads or larger homesteads shared by family members or non-related occupants. Farmers and landlords also have nuclear family homesteads or homesteads shared by several family members, but there were no instances of homesteads shared by non-related members. Generally landlords, as a measure of their wealth, have the largest homesteads and the best construction materials. Their one and two-story flat-roofed brick structure stand out in a village of mud houses with sloping tile or thatch roofs. The dwellings of the farmers and the landless are similar in appearance because of the similar building materials used, but often differ in size and upkeep.

The landless have a comparatively smaller set-back from the street, on an average 3-5 m, while for the farmers it went upto 15 m. Male landless labourers used this space for socializing or manufacturing articles for consumption or sale. Farmers used their golis primarily for rearing cattle and threshing produce and thus needed larger spaces. The landlords usually did not rear cattle (except perhaps a milk-cow) and had their produce semi-processed in their tenants' houses and as such used the goli mainly for socializing. Several landlords built walls around their golis and planted elaborate flowering gardens in this space.

The courtyard spaces also differed in size, but they were primarily meant for women's domestic work. Courtyards in the landless homesteads ranged from 12 sqm to 30 sqm, in farmers houses from 30 to 100 sqm, while in the one landlord's houses the size went up to 300 sqm. Landlords' courtyards are usually divided into spaces with separate functions, a cemented portionfor general household work, a small vegetable and flower garden and another cemented space for work connected to the kitchen; the courtyards of the other two groups are more multifunctional.

The kanta in the landlords' houses are enclosed with walls creating additional service courtyards for latrines, bathing spaces and fuel storage. In the other two groups, the kanta remains unfenced, although the vegetation in the back of the house provides privacy for the women while they work or bathe. Landlords' wives usually did not perform any household work in the kanta; their kitchen courtyards with the handpump provided ample space for "wet" household work. None of the landless houses surveyed had latrines or enclosed bathing spaces in their homesteads. Of the 21 farmers' houses surveyed, 5 had latrines in their backyards, indicating the changing sanitation practices with increase in wealth (and stricter adherence to purdah for women).

The ghar or enclosed living spaces of the separate groups also exhibited distinct characteristics and configurations. In the landless and farmers category, all rooms are directly accessible from the courtyard, while in the landlords' houses some of the rooms are accessed only through other rooms - a layout pattern usually found only in urban areas. Sizes did not differ appreciably, ranging from 10 to 25 sqm for all three group. The landless, however, have on average smaller rooms with lighter walls than the farmers. Homesteads of the landless are usually organized loosely with separate one-room structures surrounding the courtyard. Farmers' houses tend to be more compact with adjoining rooms and walled corners for additional living and storage space. With increasing wealth, more semi-covered space is needed to shelter animals, household implements and storage urns. This need has given rise to the walled courtyard with long wide barandas attached to the wall.

The basic concept of male and female domains respectively at the front and the back of the homestead, is present in the homesteads of all income groups. There are some differences, however, in how these domains are achieved and how visual privacy is maintained. Among the poor, where adherence to purdah is less stringent due to practical needs, the huts aremore loosely arranged and the fences lower and more transparent and sometimes nonexistent. The entrances sometimes lack screen walls as visual barriers. As the families move up in the social ladder, the boundaries of the house become more defined and solid, the walls become higher, with entrances that can be locked and barred. Apart from privacy needs, this also reflects the need to safeguard wealth - and women are considered to be part of that wealth.

All three groups have adapted the basic configuration of the house to their own special needs. The spaces have been apportioned and given a character specific to the income group and its requirements. The common denominator is the delineation of spaces for women, the courtyard and the kanta. For all income-groups, the dwelling form has generally been found to reflect and facilitate the segregation and seclusion of women through physical means. The degree of segregation varies according to class and family differences and result in variations of spatial qualities, but not widely differing functional qualities.

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6.4 General reflections

Purdah is an important determinant in the value system in Bangladesh. The organization of the house facilitates the observance of purdah by providing architectural boundaries to conceal and segregate women. There are several architectural devices which are used to facilitate the seclusion of women and achieve visual barriers. These include

  • spatial configuration and organization of different structures of the homestead
  • secluded and private open space
  • small exterior openings
  • entrance with screen wall for visual privacy
  • multiple entrances to segregate paths of men and women

The creation of domains and the physical boundaries within the homestead are instrumental in achieving a segregated existence for women, but these boundaries are not the crucial factor in the separation of men and women. Societal standards and religious injunctions are far more effective in maintaining the separate world of women. Apart from Islamic norms of segregation, several other factors are also instrumental in reinforcing the confinement of women to the homestead. The belief in malevolent spirits specially harmful to women ensures that women stay within the safe confines of their homes. The notions of menstrual and post-partum pollution further aid confinement of women.

The complex and shifting nature of purdah according to age and status dictates the use of space; for example the physical boundaries of the homestead define the limits of living space more for younger women than for older. For newlyweds or new mothers, these boundaries are absolute and impossible to disregard. But generally, for other women, the physical boundaries are flexible and vary according to time, period and occasion.

Although architecturally the rural house facilitates the segregation and confinement of women, it also provides an environment that is not claustrophobic or confining. The design and arrangement of the courtyard house mitigates the effects of confinement in several ways. The courtyards are fairly large with a feeling of openness. One courtyard flows into another, heightening the sense of space and movement. Three kinds of spaces - enclosed, semi-open and open, satisfy the separate spacial needs for different activities. Access to neighbouring courtyards assures frequent visits from other women - total isolation is not the norm. Although many of the families studied were nuclear, the spatial arrangements of their shared living quarters and common courtyards assured many of the support systems of the traditional extended family, such as combined child rearing, household help during illnessess, companionship and emotional support, specially for the women. Social interaction and strong feelings of ties imply significant role of traditional houseform in providing spatial bonds to fragmented families.

Architecturally, the home assures segregation from males outside the family, but does not provide privacy barriers within the home. As the courtyard is the focal point of the house with rooms opening onto it, there are no visual barriers to act as privacy buffers from affinal males, such as father-in-law and brothers-in-law, who have to be avoided according to regional norms. Women adopt avoidance behaviour in this case.

The enclosed and private courtyard space has been found to be extremely versatile. It supports domestic activities as well as activities considered to be public, such as banking, manufacturing, commercial transactions, banking, school and so on, although exclusively for women. Thus private courtyards take on public functions. When vendors come into the courtyard, several women from the neighbouring homesteads congregate to create a small market in the courtyard. Grameen Bank uses member's courtyards as temporary banking premises. The success of the Adult Education program for women is due to a great extent on its location in one of the neighbourhood courtyards. It facilitates the attendance of women with limited mobility and also assures that women feel comfortable in familiar surroundings. Rural women tend to be intimidated by alien and public environments.

The public outdoor areas, with their hierarchical structure, also facilitate the segregation of the women. Women use special paths which connect the backyards of the homesteads which is part of their domain. There are specific boundaries that women are not encouraged to cross, such as the deori in the homestead and the D.B. road which runs through the settlement. Women of Bajitpur, for example, are bounded by the river on one side and the main road on the other and thus limited to their own vilage for social visits. Most women, however, do not cross their neighbourhood boundaries. The kinship boundaries of the family and the physical limits of the homestead and the immediate neighbourhood very much define the world of the average woman. The synergy of physical boundaries and behavioural norms facilitates and ensures the segregation of women in traditional rural settlements.

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6.5 Significance of the study

In most developing countries, governments and foreign agencies are involved in development programs in rural areas. By contributing to research in this area, this study attempts to add to the body of knowledge regarding traditional houseforms and living patterns in the religious and cultural context. This may help in the provision of housing or upgrading of settlements that is more culturally appropriate for those areas. It also provides an insight into health and education issues in rural areas, as these are directly linked to the living environment and to notions of privacy, accessibility and mobility of rural women.

The main objective, however, is to add to the growing awareness of the importance of women in development programmes, both in their participation and as a target group. The special needs and problems of women in the provision of shelter has long been a neglected field, especially in the developing countries. By addressing a specific research problem geared to women's living patterns in one of the countries, this study attempts to contribute research in this particular field.

The study will serve its purpose if it can be used as a professional tool and a guiding document for future research and/or development programmes, taking into consideration the value system and special needs of women.

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6.6 Steps for further research

Research techniques sensitive to women's special requirements as well as more data are needed to broaden the understanding of various aspects of women's use of space in the home and the neighbourhood. Occupational and social mobility of women, the relationship between changing family structures and the status of women particularly with respect to their freedom of movement and choice of occupation needs to be studied in greater detail. The very significant relationship between purdah and class and the resulting environment also requires more research.

This field study was concentrated in a specific location. More regional studies are needed to account for regional differences. Further studies of the same nature will add to the vocabulary of traditional houseformsavailable to professionals engaged in planned interventions in the built environment.

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Glossary of terms

Aagan (u/h), Angina (b) - Courtyard

Baithak - Room or semi-enclosed space next to the street for male visitors

Bari (b) - Homestead. It may also refer to a family or kinship location

Burqa - A garment Muslim women use to veil themselves. It covers the whole body leaving the face or only the eyes open.

Baranda (b), Dalan (u/h) - Semi-open space between room and courtyard

- A patronymic, historically associated with ownership of land

Deori (b) - Entrance space

Dheki (b) - Wooden rice-husker operated by foot

Ghar (b) - Home or room

Gharami (b) - Roofing expert

Goli (b) - Transitional space between the street and the homestead

- Weekly market

Kanta (b) - Backyard

Katha (b) - Embroidered quilt

Kobiraj (b) - an indigenous practitioner of herbal medicine

Maktab, Madrassa - Islamic religious school

Mardana (u/h) - Men's quarters

Naior (b) - Married woman's vacation in natal home

Na-mahram - Anyone a women could have been married but has not been married, all persons with whom marriage relationship is possible.

Ojha (b)- An exorcist. His services are much in demand, because many diseases are attributed to possession by evil spirits

Para (b) - A part of the village - a neighbourhood

Purdah - The system of seclusion and segregation of Muslim women, with both physical and behavioural means

Shalish (b) - Traditional village arbitration

Taka (b) - Monetary unit in Bangladesh. 1 Tk = US$ 40.00

Zamindar - Landlord class

Zenana (u/h) - Women's quarters

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Appendix 1

Interview Guide

1. Family data:

Socio-economic status of the family

Details of occupants

Main and secondary occupations of the women of the family

2. The homestead:

Type and condition of construction

Organization and connection of spaces

Architectural devices used to effect seclusion of women

3. Female activities in the homestead and neighbourhood:

Activity cycles of the female members of the family

Uses of spaces both within and outside the family homestead

Temporal zoning of space use within and outside the home

Sanitation practices

4. Effects of purdah and other social norms of behaviour:

Purdah practices according to age and status

Other social devices to achieve seclusion of women

The effect of folk religion

Women's social networks

5. Use of public space:

Mobility and freedom of movement

Use of circulation system

Access of women to educational, political, legal, commercial and religious institutions of the village

Cognition of surroundings

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