The health of women and girls in urban areas in low-income settings

It is well established that there is a global trend towards urbanization. The World Health Organisation estimate that by 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be living in towns and cities and one in three urban dwellers will live in slums, a total of one billion people worldwide. City life can have its freedoms and pleasures, but low-income urban settlements also intensify certain risk factors for ill health and introduce new hazards.

Little is known about what approaches to improving the health of women and girls are currently working in these settings, and less about efforts to tackle emerging and significant health conditions such as injury, violence, cardiovascular disease and neuropsychiatric disorders. What are the health challenges faced by women and girls in low-income urban settlements in expanding cities in Kenya, India and South Africa?  And what interventions exist to address these health challenges?

In the news

  • The right to adequate housing for persons with disabilities living in cities

    A new study reviews the literature on the right to adequate housing for persons with disabilities in cities. It includes a section on discrimination against women with disabilities, especially in terms of gender-based violence as a barrier to adequate housing. It highlights that women are likely to have less security of tenure than men and are at higher risk of being homeless or suffering from consequences of inadequate housing.

    from UN Habitat
  • What’s driving young people to have transactional sex in Malawi’s slums?

    Mphatso Kamndaya and Caroline Kabiru explore transactional sex from the perspective of young women and men living in urban slums. The article is based on a study looking at how young men and young women understand the structural factors that promote transactional sex among their peers.

    from African Population and Health Research Centre
  • The health risks of city slums in South Africa

    This article by Michelle Galloway, orginally appeared on the SciBraai website. It looks at the huge impact urbanisation has had on health in South Africa, the most urbanised country in southern Africa.

    from APHRC


A new policy briefing from IDS calls for decision-makers to take a broader approach to address the social, structural and economic determinants of health, and to ensure community involvement in interventions with genuine gender inclusivity. The paper is based on six case studies and a thematic review examining women’s and girls’ access to health in low-income urban settlements.

The urban share of poverty is increasing: according to the UN, by 2030 almost 60 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Health, gender and urbanisation are all included in the Sustainable Development Goals, but are the links clear enough? This blog post takes a look at the Global Goals and how urban health and gender are represented. 

Pauline Oosterhoff, from IDS, presented her policy case study on Urban Health Policy in an Indigenous Context in India as part of a Panel Session on Urbanisation, Health & Policy at the MAGic2015 conference on ‘Anthropology and Global Health: interrogating theory, policy and practice’, which took place at the University of Sussex from 9-11th September 2015.

Our approach

In order to gain a better understanding of the effects of urbanisation and urban environments on the health of women and girls in low-income settings, the research will have several components. An annotated bibliography and thematic review are currently being produced, and an online discussion took place from January 29th – 31st, 2013 which will feed into and inform the thematic review. Six case studies with a focus on HIV, sexual and reproductive health and other health issues of particular relevance to the urban environment will be conducted in South Africa, Kenya and India.


Key Reading

Key research documents

Online Discussion

Framing the issue in Kenya and South Africa