Three Pathways to Inclusive Green Housing for Women in Asia and the Pacific

Women are bearing the brunt of the impact of climate change-induced extreme weather events’ impact on housing. Photo: ADB
Women are bearing the brunt of the impact of climate change-induced extreme weather events’ impact on housing. Photo: ADB

By Sabine Spohn, Alexandra Harris, Carola Menzel-Hausherr

Addressing Asia and the Pacific's urgent need for affordable, green housing is vital for women's resilience and sustainable development. It requires inclusive policies, awareness, gender-sensitive financing, and technology-enhanced access to financing.

Extreme weather hazards caused by climate change are worsening the shortage of housing worldwide. Globally, 60% of the population live in inadequate housing, according to UN Habitat.

Between 2010 and 2021, 225.3 million people in Asia and the Pacific were displaced by weather-related hazards. This added to the over one billion people globally who have no access to decent housing, of whom 60% live in the region.

While climate change creates a shortage of affordable housing, lack of affordable green housing exacerbates climate change. Those who cannot afford to live in well-insulated and energy-efficient homes tend to rely more on carbon-intensive housing.

Globally, the housing sector is responsible for nearly 40% of carbon dioxide emissions. It is also responsible for 40% of the global energy consumption. For example, in India alone, residences emit 7% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and consume more than 25% of the total electricity, making the sector the third-largest consumer of electricity.

Reducing the environmental consequence of housing requires a change in energy and water consumption habits and the use of sustainable construction materials. Housing design and construction adapted to climate-related risks can increase resilience and help mitigation efforts.

Women are particularly affected by this issue, often lacking access to titled property across Asia and the Pacific. In Indonesia, only one in five women in rural areas can claim to own their homes, according to a 2023 housing finance report on select countries.

The great demand and opportunity for equitable housing access are not being met. For example,  a recent study shows the estimated demand for women’s housing loans in India totals $32.3 billion, yet female homeownership is rare.

Many women in Asia and the Pacific work in the informal sector. As a result, they lack the credit history and documentation required to access finance, including housing loans. Women are less likely than men to be homeowners due to their lack of sufficient and stable income and traditional social norms that limit their ability to exercise their legal right to inherit and own land and property.  Women are often left out of policymaking and decision-making with regards to planning, design, and housing construction.

While women lag behind men in home ownership, they play an important role in climate adaptation and mitigation by adopting sustainable practices at home, such as investing in clean energy solutions, including solar panels and clean cook stoves. Women generally tend to be more sustainable consumers and are more sensitive to ecological, environmental, and health concerns.

It is imperative to make green housing available and affordable for women.

It is imperative to make green housing available and affordable for women. Potential pathways to making green housing more inclusive include the following:

Develop policies and incentives that encourage developers to build inclusive and affordable green housing. To begin, policies mandating environmentally conscious design and construction practices should be put in place, alongside sustainable housing standards. It is also important to provide incentives to developers to build green homes at affordable prices and to sensitize them on the gender aspects of the buildings they construct.

Raise awareness of the long-term benefits of green housing. Higher costs for purchasing a green home, combined with the lack of understanding of the long-term benefits in energy bill savings and reduced water consumption, hinder many home buyers including women from choosing the green home option.  Raising public awareness about the long-term benefits of green housing is necessary.

Encourage financial institutions to provide affordable, inclusive green financing options. Financial institutions need to appreciate the business case for lending to women, as they can offer suitable financing options tailored to women, including green home finance, that provides, for example, flexible repayment plans or attractive interest rates if the property is owned or co-owned by a female or the mortgage includes a female borrower.

Financial institutions should collect and use sex-disaggregated data to better understand women’s financial behaviors and can then design housing finance solutions that address their specific challenges including, for example, their lack of adequate down payment capital.

Moreover, it is important that financial institutions comprehend technical criteria that define green buildings in a consistent way. National green finance taxonomies or the residential and commercial building criteria of the Climate Bonds Initiative or the International Capital Market Association provide helpful frameworks.

 Financial institutions can partner with real estate developers and non-governmental organizations to help target financing to women and for green purposes, as well as build capacity and raise awareness around the need for and the benefits of green homes.

Technology and digital tools can also support women’s access to housing finance. Some lenders in the region are introducing digital applications that require inclusion of women borrowers, for example. Other lenders leverage alternative data, such as transaction data from telecommunications companies and rental payments for business premises, as inputs to credit scoring models to help address women’s lack of credit history.

By empowering women with access to loans for safe, sustainable, and affordable homes, gender equality can be promoted while contributing to green, equitable, and inclusive development in Asia and the Pacific.