The participation of women in the construction of a popular habitat: generating urban development in Sol de Libertad

Without a doubt, the majority of the world’s population lives in cities, with Latin America being the most urbanized region. Mainly in Latin America, the population produces self-made housing, which emerges in the urban landscape of the main cities, built on the basis of struggle and commitment of the most impoverished sectors, to make a space in the city and thereby seek better life opportunities.

In this short article, I will highlight the role that women have played in the construction of housing and habitat, based on the collective actions undertaken in a neighborhood of informal origin in the city of Managua, Nicaragua. This case shows us that the role of women has been decisive in the construction of their neighborhoods and has disrupted gender roles through various collective actions and organizational practices promoted, which has contributed to a social transformation.

The residents of the Sol de Libertad neighborhood, like many others, have had the courage to leave everything behind and forge a future in the city. They, like many others that live in these types of spaces, build their houses without the support and without services, they do them as best as they can and wherever they can, challenging urban planning.

It is essential to understand the organizational practices, collective actions, and citizenship exercised by the population living in informal settlements to improve their insertion in the city and access to urban services from a gender perspective. The socially assigned gender roles have been disrupted by the organizational practices of the women leaders of the Sol de Libertad neighborhood of the city of Managua.

The narrative of the leading women who obtained, first, urban land and then housing, shows that it is the most impoverished population, the one who commands and leads processes of habitat construction. In the case of Sol de Libertad, the history of the emergence and consolidation of the neighborhood reveals the role that women have played in this process.

Paula Soto, (2018) states that “women present themselves as actors, (…) they give collective responses in the processes of self-construction of housing and in the improvement of infrastructure” (p.23)

Although there are studies that characterize these settlements as sites of low political activity, we find that the mobilization and management, mainly of women, in the production of their neighborhoods, generate important participation processes that transcend the sphere of private space, placing them in the public space.

The women who forged the birth of the Sol de Libertad neighborhood.

In the Sol de Libertad neighborhood, women developed organizational strategies and practices to take control of the land of what is now their neighborhood. Quickly, and favored in the darkness of night, they placed the first posts of what would later become the first houses. They devised strategies to circumvent police security, they organized, and while some went to the municipal districts, others stayed caring for and defending the conquered territory.

While securing the territory, the next task was to access drinking water. To solve this shared need, they carried out a repertoire of collective actions and organized processes. Doña Elsy tells me that she had to get up at two in the morning to get water from the annex to Villa Libertad (neighborhood next to the land taken). Equipped with some buckets, they collected the water to take to their precarious homes. She took advantage of the task of collecting water to take a short bath and wash her clothes, always limiting water use and meeting her needs with what she managed to get. She then had to walk up the extremely stony and steep path to bring the water to her precarious home.

When talking with Mrs. Elsy, Karla, Mrs. Eva, and Maritza, all of the founders of Sol de Libertad, they affirmed that they came to populate the neighborhood despite the adverse conditions of the land, ignoring the danger represented by a natural channel that divides the neighborhood into two and increases in width and depth every year, causing a high risk for the population. They all agree that “it was the only opportunity to get a piece of land to live on.”

“We were afraid that they would come to evict us, we thought that we could not be left without a house, living on the street. I was afraid that my house would be demolished with all the effort we had made. I was worried about seeing all my sacrifice on the ground.” (Cristina)

Sol de Libertad, like other neighborhoods self-produced by the people, is on the other side of the so-called formal city. They constitute territories of difference and inequality marked by the poverty of their ecosystem. Cravino, (2016) characterizes them as “city fragments without city status”. For women like “the makers of Sol de Libertad”, land grabbing was the only option to have a home.

According to the stories of the women leaders and founders of the neighborhood, access to drinking water and then electricity meant a series of efforts, struggles, and resistance that took a period of between six to eight years. In addition, to assuming the costs of materials and labor, which for the poorest populations is extremely more expensive, and of very low quality.

In the struggle to have access to drinking water, Doña Elsy relates: “we, women also work a lot. We ourselves dug to have drinking water ”. Dona Eva adds, “We triumphed with water. It is difficult for the neighborhood. We did the same with the electricity at the beginning, we put it on ”.

Learning from the Organization

The leaders and founders of Sol de Libertad have learned that organizing and working to achieve better conditions in the neighborhood has given them growth as women who distance themselves from traditional roles. The regularization of the land, the management of public services, the preparation of requests for property titles have had results. At the same time, they have taken advantage of non-governmental organizations to access small and flexible loans to improve their homes and to additionally manage projects with local agencies aimed at reducing the difficult environmental conditions that the neighborhood experiences. They have worked to improve their leadership, training, and strengthening their role, as a result, they have revised their needs and turned them into demands and rights.

The organization of these women and their role in improving their habitat, articulated with the neighborhood social fabric, dominate the daily life of their neighborhoods. They were structured in such a way, they were able to meet individual but also collective needs and gaining leadership spaces in the neighborhood organization. The difficult conditions in which they inhabit the city are seen by the leaders as the potential for the promotion of their organization and as a way to realize their utopias and dreams.

The women leaders of Sol de Libertad have generated bonds of trust that unite them with the population that lives in the neighborhoods. Despite the new leaderships imposed in the neighborhoods by the ruling party, the historical leaders represent a very present and influential role. They have built their leadership over more than 25 years. They are not temporary leaders in attendance to a project or a government. Their leadership is rooted in direct contact with the wide network they have woven throughout their lives. They are closer to promoting community organizational practices, solidarity, and equality.

For them, the task of organizing, mobilizing, and management of the social demand of the inhabitants is a fundamental part of their lives. Because of this, the new neighborhood leadership imposed does not manage to mobilize or make a dent in the leadership of women who, like Elsy, Eva, Maritza, and Karla, have forged themselves in the struggle to conquer space in the city and inhabit Sol de Libertad.

Undoubtedly, these women have played a determining role in the construction of their neighborhoods. Their knowledge of the territory and its people is essential, knowledge of the diversity of inequalities in the neighborhood, in order to work together with the population and hand in hand with its new leaders. Placing the different territorial scales of urban injustices at the center for the construction of a sustainable, democratic, and sustainable urban agenda.

Cravino, María Cristina (2016). “Desigualdad urbana, inseguridad y vida cotidiana en asentamientos informales del Area Metropolitana de Buenos Aires”, Etnografías Contemporáneas 2 (3), pp.56-83.
Soto Villagrán, Paula (2018). Hacia la construcción de unas geografías de género de la ciudad. Formas plurales de habitar y significar los espacios urbanos en Latinoamérica. Perspectivas Geográgicas Vol.23 No2. Recuperado de:

Women who build the future

1330 million women and girls live on less than 1 dollar a day.Despite much progress thanks to the efforts of women around the world, the data on inequality of opportunities between men and women continues to be alarming, above all in the most impoverished countries where the gap is much greater. 



Behind the devastating data, there are women who do not surrender and continue to work, striving to transform this reality from different parts of the world. Women, like Rosa, who is a teacher with Fe y Alegría Madagascar. Women who stand for the importance of quality education, and thanks to Fe y Alegría, they work to change their reality and that of other women and girls in their communities.



Climate change and conflicts affect women in a greater proportion. Impoverished women in rural areas who depend on commonly used resources are particularly affected when these resources are exhausted. In addition, women and girls are 14 times more likely to die during a natural disaster than men.

Yesenia has firmly decided to defend the environment and that is why she has become an “environmental guardian” at her school, Fe y Alegría La Merced in El Salvador. Together with her colleagues, she is in charge of managing an ecological garden, offering training to the youngest students and serving as a tour guide in the area to raise awareness in the community.



The voice of women in decision-making spaces is far from being in parity: up until September 2017, women occupied only 23.7% of parliamentary seats around the world.

Judith is from Chad and was the only woman in her community who could access secondary school. Thanks to this she has been able to make choices in her life. Several times a year, she teaches together with our partners Entreculturas-Fe y Alegría, workshops for mothers and young people coming from different places in the region of Guéra (southern Chad), about the importance of education for girls and women. In addition, they exchange experiences, devise joint strategies to bring about changes in their communities and receive training on issues that concern them but that are difficult for them to deal with due to deeply rooted cultural traditions, such as early marriage or female genital mutilation, a practice that affects 90% of women in the region and more than 200 million women and girls around the world.



Alejandra is a student with Fe y Alegría Nicaragua and has decided to study mechanics, despite the prejudices and the difficulties that this entails.

She believes that “Women can…we can work in the same areas as men.” And this is why she has decided to study mechanics to better her future.

Through Fe y Alegría’s technical training programs, youth and women attain life skills and abilities, receive support for their insertion into the job market, as they seek a path toward economic autonomy.



March 8th: International Women’s Day


On March 8th, we celebrate International Women’s Day. This day is rooted in the historic fight of women to engage in society on the basis of equality. At Friends of Fe y Alegría in the United States, we want to recover the stories of ordinary women that have played a key role in the history of their countries and communities. We also want to launch an appeal based on the commitment that the international community has approved through the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda to achieve gender equality and empower all girls and women.

Judith is from Chad and she was the only woman in her community to finish primary school and to access secondary education. Thanks to her education, she has been able to take charge of her own life. Several times a year, Judith conducts workshops together with Entreculturas – Fe y Alegría Spain for mothers and young women that come from different places in the Guera region (south of Chad), about the importance of girls adn women’s education, as she believes thateducating a boy or a girl means educating an entire community. 

The question of gender places us at the core of human rights and justice and finds in education a prime tool for perpetuation or transformation. With education, we always transmit values related to gender edentity and the relationships between men and women. It is very important to identify these inequalities and gender-based discrimination and strive for their elemination in educational contexts in order to seek the integral development of each boy and girl, encouraging the development of their abilities. This is what is called “to coeducate”, to ensure that all people are trained equally in a system of values, behaviors, standards and expectations that are not based on gendered hierarchies.

The workshops that Judith carries out are very special for the women in her community. They share experiences, they create joint strategies to make changes in their populations and they receive training on issues that they find cocerning but that, in everyday life, they cannot address due to strongly rooted cultural traditions like early marriage or female genital mutilation. This practices affects 90% of the women in the region.

This training and education leads to empowerment of the women who participate and this is a fundamental strategy for sustainable human development, referring to the increase of participation by women in decision-making processes and access to power, as well as raising awareness of the power that they have individually and collectively which is connected with recovering their own dignity and strengthening their own potential and skills.

Leadership and the Participation of Women

The reality of the women in Chad is discriminatory; nevertheless, it is a less distorted reflection of what happens in Madrid, Buenos Aires or Dubai. According to the Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Program, there is not a single country in the world in which women have the same opportunities.

Even though there have been advances in the discriminatory practices against women, there still remains much to be done. When it comes to education, according to UNESCO, nearly 16 million girls between the ages of 6 and 11 will never go to primary school, compared to 8 million boys that are also denied access. In relation to working conditions, three out of four men of working age are part of the workforce, as opposed to 50% in the case of women of working age.Women still receive a different salary for work of equal value everywhere in the world. Globally, women’s salaries are 24% lower than men’s. When we talk about leadership and the participation of women in public life and politics of their countries, today, women represent 22% of parliament members in the world and there are only 11 women that are Heads of State and 10 that are Heads of government. Promoting leadership and the political and public involvement of women is an indispensable strategy for human development. Only through gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will we be able to meet the commitments undertaken in the 2030 Agenda.

International commitments

Last year marked the 20th anniversary of the Beijiing Declaration and Platform for Action, the roadmap that articulated women’s rights. The deadline for the fulfillment of the Goals for Education for All and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has passed as well.

Furthermore, last year, the international community adopted the 2030 Agenda where the international consensus regarding the necessity of attaining gender equality and the empowerment of girls and women was articulated in Goal Number 5.

Judith may not have detailed knowledge of the 17 Goals in this global agenda, but she does know that without the participation of the women in her region, it will be impossible to improve the living conditions of her population. Judith should not do this alone. The international community is committed to these goals and we, civil society, must assume them as well as a shared challenge.

This article was originally posted on Entreculturas-Fe y Alegría Spain’s website.