‘It’s a feminist issue’: New plans to solve gender inequality in housing

The Women's Housing Forum group was set up to tackle the root causes of structural gender inequality, like caring responsibilities and domestic abuse, which affect women's access to suitable housing

A group of women with experience working in the housing sector is breaking the link between homelessness and gender inequality.

The Women’s Housing Forum (WHF) has released its plans to improve housing services for women after its inaugural event was held in London earlier this year.

Its plans include influencing housing providers to address women’s specific needs – like lower average incomes, additional caring responsibilities and greater experience of domestic abuse and sexual violence – in the services they offer.

The organisation intends to establish a tiered membership model that is free for individuals to join so that “everyone who cares about women’s housing can have an equal voice and come together to tackle these issues”.

In a new report the WHF – founded just last year – looked to the future of the group and announced it would be commissioning research, developing new digital channels and launching fundraising events.

A spokesperson said: “Housing is, without a doubt, a feminist issue.

“For women without a stable and secure home, accessing and succeeding in education and employment becomes all the more difficult.”

The report showed that the group is building on existing tenant representation and involvement in the Forum.

It will also work with other organisations to pool best practice expertise relating to domestic abuse, homelessness and design of new homes that consider the needs of women.

WHF co-chairs Denise Fowler and Zaiba Qureshi said their vision for the Forum became a reality at the event.

“The research gathered and presented on the day clearly resonated with people, from those in the housing sector and beyond.

“With two women a week killed by their current or former partner in the UK, high numbers of homeless women ‘hidden’ and under the radar of support services, and with median earnings for females in England at 34.3% less than for males – the time for putting women’s experiences on the housing agenda is now.”

The event, attended by more than 90 people, featured a range of workshops and speakers including representatives from Shelter, Homeless Link and the Chartered Institute of Housing.

Housing is, without a doubt, a feminist issue

Diana Humphrey, a Women’s Pioneer Housing tenant, added: “I had expected the event to be interesting. What I hadn’t expected was that the event would be exciting.

“Without exception, everyone was focused on trying to make our present situation better. Everyone listened. Everyone’s ideas and points of view were welcomed, listened to and noted, regardless, from CEOs to tenants and everyone between. The outcome was a tremendous energy that was almost palpable, urging forward to the next stage to promote women’s housing needs in order that their situation is improved. Everyone agreed that there was certainly a place for such a forum.

“My message to tenants is that our voices too are listened to as we all have valuable life experiences.”

Earlier this year, homelessness charity St Mungo’s said services are often designed with men in mind and leave women without sufficient support.

Homeless women in the UK have experienced physical, sexual, emotional and economic abuse at a high rate – it can be both a cause and a consequence of homelessness.

The next public WHF meeting is planned for later this year.