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Authors: Melissa Perri and Patricia O’Campo

Current housing-related programs and policies implemented across Canada do not consider gender in an appropriate and effective manner (gender-blind).1,2 Calls for more attention to housing programs and policies that focus on gender in a way that reflects what some refer to as “gender transformative approaches” began from as early as the 1990s, but continue to be absent due to the existing patriarchal and hegemonic structuring of society.3 Gender transformative approaches reveal gaps in our understanding and provide insight into program areas that require a redistribution of resources and focused attention.1,2 Continuation of gender-blind approaches will result in harm and deprivation of basic housing rights to women, girls, and gender diverse peoples. Some harms faced by these groups include violence, child apprehension, stigma and discrimination, experiences of trauma, and increased occurrences of mental health illnesses.4,5 This blog will explore the implication of the absence of gender transformative programming for women, girls, and gender diverse people and discuss how this specifically influences experiences of violence. We provide a call to action for greater attention to the complexities surrounding housing and violence for women, girls, and gender diverse people which aligns well with themes associated with Domestic Violence Awareness Month occurring in the months of October and November across North America.

The first completed pan-Canadian survey assessing the experiences of women, girls, and gender diverse people who faced housing insecurity or homelessness was published in 2021-demonstrating limited gender transformative approaches in existing research on housing programs and policies across the country. This survey demonstrated that among 500 participants, 75% had experienced a form of abuse or trauma in their lifetime.4  The relationship between violence, poverty, inadequate resources, and housing insecurity/ homelessness for women, girls, and gender diverse people can be thought of as complex and intertwined.5 For example, those with housing insecurity report high volumes of lifetime physical, sexual, and emotional violence from partners and community members.5,6 Research shows that gender-blind housing accommodation programs actually facilitate experiences of harassment and violence for housing insecure women, girls, and gender diverse people.6-8 In attempts to address experiences of housing precarity, women, girls, and gender diverse people often have few options but to engage in exploitative relationships, which often results in experiences of violence. Similarly, women, girls, and gender diverse women who are fleeing violence may end up experiencing housing insecurity. These groups often flee their homes for their own safety with limited access to income, savings, or support.

Existing housing programs and policies across Canada do not fully account for the complexities which lie behind experiences of violence for women, girls, and gender diverse people. In certain instances, stringent program policies such as violence against women shelters denying the entry of young sons over a certain age-point, facilitates either engagement in unsafe relationships for housing or in absolute homelessness for these groups.5 Similarly, conceptualizations within the rental market surrounding violence creates experiences of discrimination from landlords towards women, girls, and gender diverse people who have faced/face intimate partner violence.5 These ideologies shape the way in which these groups access and navigate existing housing rental structures across Canada.

A Gendered Transformation: Case Example

Existing programs and policies can begin to adapt their services to become gender transformative without requiring extensive resources or funding. For example, ensuring all staff have gendered training or conducting regular gender-based analyses of all program inputs and outputs can begin to move programs along the gender-responsive continuum. The Canadian National Housing Strategy (NHS) has begun to acknowledge gender through an embedded a gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) framework and has listed women and children fleeing domestic violence as priority area populations.9 GBA+ framework’s assess how gendered systemic inequalities are perpetuated within existing programs, policies, and/or initiatives.10 Pertaining to the NHS, the GBA+ framework is used as method to ensure vulnerable groups are being adequately served by the developed housing initiatives and policy changes within the strategy itself.9 This framework is being applied within the NHS as a way to challenge underlying housing initiatives assumptions towards women and gender diverse people, as a method to inform data collection, and ultimately as a way to guide the development and implementation of recommendations made in housing systems across Canada.9 Although a positive initiative, the use of this framework leaves analyses of gendered gaps to the judgement of the analyst, who may or may not have training in the area of gender-informed practice and/or who may have limited knowledge on the lived experiences of women, girls, and gender diverse people.

Here we have provided a case example for how existing housing programs and policies can become gender transformative:

The Portable Housing Benefit was launched in 2018 across the province of Ontario and provides individuals (including special priority groups such as women who experience intimate partner violence) funding to aid in maintaining housing cost each month. Households are provided a stipend with varying amount depending on neighbourhood location, their income, and whether they are accessing social assistance programs.11 The current implementation of this program is gender blind in nature, given its lack of focus on gender dynamics such as financial based violence (e.g., individuals losing control of their finances). To become gender transformative, the Portable Housing Benefit can:

  1. Alter existing benefit amounts based on unique household circumstances
  2. Integrate strategies which address existing landlord discrimination against women, girls, and gender diverse people who experience housing insecurity and violence
  3. Provide funds to women, girls, and gender diverse people to improve home security concerns
  4.  Provide incentives to landlords to support women, girls, and gender diverse people in safe and convenient neighbourhoods
  5. Provide women, girls, and gender diverse people recipients access to programs which improve income security

As outlined in this blog, current housing program and policy efforts need to go beyond making the public aware that gender-based violence exists to facilitating multi-agency support to create programs and policies that value and prioritize the diverse needs of women, girls, and gender diverse people. We call on the existing housing system across Canada to commit to allocating the resources needed to eliminate gender-based violence once and for all through the integration of gender transformative approaches.

References:

1.         March C, Smyth I, Mukhopadhyay M. A guide to gender-analysis frameworks, 1999.

2.         Robinson H, Eckhoff S, Quay I. Gender marker guidance, 2019.

3.         Perri M, O’Campo P. A gap in knowledge surrounding urban housing interventions: a call for gender redistribution. Health Promotion International 2021; 36(4): 908-12.

4.         Schwan K, Vaccaro M, Reid L, Ali N, Baig K. The Pan-Canadian Women’s Housing & Homelessness Survey. Toronto, Ontario, 2021.

5.         Schwan K, Versteegh A, Perri M, et al. The State of Women’s Housing Need & Homelessness in Canada: A Literature Review. Toronto, Ontario: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press 2020.

6.         Perri M, Metheny N, Matheson FI, Potvin K, O’Campo P. Finding opportunity in the COVID-19 crisis: prioritizing gender in the design of social protection policies. Health Promotion International 2021: 1-11.

7.         Collins AB, Boyd J, Hayashi K, Cooper HLF, Goldenberg S, McNeil R. Women’s utilization of housing-based overdose prevention sites in Vancouver, Canada: An ethnographic study. International Journal of Drug Policy 2020; 76(102641): 1-9.

8.         Lyons T, Krusi A, Pierre L, Smith A, Small W, Shannon K. Experiences of trans women and two-spirit persons accessing women-specific health and housing services in a downtown neighborhood of Vancouver, Canada. . LGBT Health 2016; 3(5): 373-8.

9.         Government of Canada. Canada’s National Housing Strategy. Canada, 2017.

10.       Government of Canada. What is Gender-Based Analysis Plus. Canada, 2021.

11.       City of Toronto. The Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit (COHB). 2021. https://www.toronto.ca/community-people/employment-social-support/housing-support/rent-geared-to-income-subsidy/canada-ontario-housing-benefit/.