WCHM Quarterly March 2016

It would seem 2016 is off to a flying start. WCHM has been busy this quarter with a range of activities, much of which has been focussed on celebrations for International Women’s Day 2016. However, 2016 is also an election year for Australia and the ACT. In this quarterly we are looking at affordable and accessible housing as this is going to be the major election platform across the community sector in the ACT.

Why housing? It is hard to deny that the affordability and accessibility of housing affects us all. Safe shelter underpins our health and wellbeing and affects all Canberrans. Rents are high, home ownership is harder to attain and waiting lists for public housing are long, as a result homelessness is a difficult reality for the Territory. It makes sense to put housing at the forefront of the election. In this quarterly we look at how housing is a gendered issue and which groups of women are affected. We also outline some ways to engage with this issue in your community, be it with politicians, friends and family or colleagues.

In this edition we’re also trying our hand at a video log, known as a vlog. Scroll down to see our first ever video Women and Work update, and let us know what you think of this new format!


Housing is Everyone’s Business

By Melanie Greenhalgh—Health Promotion Officer

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 25: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of themselves and of their family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

We often hear about and indeed talk about how housing is one of the most basic human rights to which we are all entitled as human beings. But when you hear a phrase like that, where does your mind take you? Is it to a third world country where natural disasters have taken their toll or images of destruction and despair in a war zone or maybe a fire or flood affected area of our own country? But did you know that women locally in the ACT are particularly vulnerable to not being able to access or maintain housing?

The truth is homelessness is much closer to us than we think. There is no doubt we are a great city, full of people with caring values and interests and we have in the past proven ourselves capable of developing our priorities in policy and converting that into action. But if we take a closer look, you will also see that gender plays a role in the access to and maintenance of housing.

The gendered divide has seen the caring roles in our community, whether it is for children, family members living with a disability or aging parents and relatives being heralded as the responsibility of women. In this dichotomy, men work full-time and traditionally have been seen as the providers.

Women predominantly work in part-time roles to allow them to also fulfil their caring roles at home. However, what we also know is that the industries that women typically participate in, such as nursing, teaching, childcare and the community sector or the ‘care’ professions are also being paid lower wages. Add into the mix high housing and rental prices and what we produce is a group in our community who is at increased risk and vulnerability of homelessness—a group who often has to choose to pay the rent or eat: but not both.

One of the most frightening aspects of the effects of gender on homelessness and housing insecurity are that it does not just affect one cohort of women. Groups of women include older women, young women, women living with disability, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, single mothers and migrant women.

Older women are at risk because they may have never owned a home, not accumulated adequate superannuation over their working life and may have been forced to leave the workforce early for a range of reasons including: discrimination, to fulfil the caring roles required in their families and experiencing the death of a partner or separation.

Women with disabilities are at risk because they often have restricted opportunities to participate in the paid workforce and even more difficulty finding affordable and accessible housing or supported accommodation options.

Young women are at risk because they are often forced to leave home due to domestic and family violence and sexual abuse and assault. Young people are often discriminated against in housing markets because of their age and income types.

We know that Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander women experience higher rates of homelessness for several reasons including domestic and family violence, overcrowding and housing stock that does not cater to family structures. As a result Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experienced increased levels of discrimination in the housing market.

Migrant women also have an elevated risk and vulnerability to homelessness. Most notably the risk factors include visa status which explicitly precludes them from employment. This is of particular concern for women who are on bridging visas and have no income.

We also cannot escape the reality that women are more likely to be the victims of domestic and family violence, that is, subject to coercive and controlling behaviours often involving property damage, financial exploitation and dependence. Whether women are staying at home or leaving the relationship there are many complex factors that contribute to women’s increased risk of homelessness.

Single mothers are at risk of homeless for a variety of reasons including the relationship breakdown, domestic and family violence, inability to participate in the work force while they are the sole carer for children and housing affordability.

Housing is a human right for a reason—it provides us with safety, security and a place to belong. Consider for a moment someone you love, imagine that something changes in the life of your person and pushes them into housing crisis—they may become homeless or be at risk of losing their housing. What impact does something like that have on them? Would it affect their health and wellbeing, their feelings of safety and security?

Of course the answers are yes and as a community we have the ability to make a difference. As the ACT prepares for a local election in 2016 we all have the opportunity to let the candidates know that your vote is for housing.

Your voice joined with the voices of other Canberran’s is needed to ensure that affordable and accessible housing is a top priority issue and not just rhetoric or lip service. You can do this by:

  1. Engage with your local candidates and ask them questions about their position on and approach to affordable and accessible housing in the ACT.
  1. Ask yourself, do their responses to affordable and accessible housing in the ACT meet your expectations?
  1. If you want to know more about affordable and accessible housing check out http://www.myvoteforhousing.com.au
  1. Tell others in your community about why affordable and accessible housing need to be a key commitment in this election and when you get to the ballot box make sure your vote is for housing.

We need to make sure that meaningful and evidence based research is used to develop new and innovative ways to help women across the ACT from all backgrounds and life experience access and maintain safe, affordable and accessible housing.

After all we must never forget that housing is everyone’s human right.

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WCHM Women and Work

Welcome to the first WCHM Women and Work update for 2016. The beginning part of 2016 has been busy and we have lots to report. This month we are coming to you with something a little different—our first attempt at a video log also known as a vlog.

You will see that we have a star in the making as Jenni presents a summary of what we’ve been up to over the past few months.


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Worth Checking Out

The Older Women’s Co-Housing Project (OWCH!) is a group of women over fifty who are creating their own community in a new, purpose-built block of flats in North London. As an alternative to living alone, they are getting to know each other as neighbours—and friendly, helpful neighbours, at that. Check out the lovely trailer for OWCH, and hear the women reflect on their experiences not only of their project, but of the experience of being an ageing women in Britain more generally. The members of OWCH are pictured above.

SHIT is the latest play from multi-award winning playwright Patricia Cornelius, who is known for her confronting plays that often deal with the people on the fringes of society, struggling with poverty. For ABC’s Book and Arts program actors Sarah Ward, Nicci Wilks and Peta Brady, and the playwright Patricia Cornelius, discuss the play’s three difficult characters, who have been told repeatedly that they are worthless, and who come to believe that they are indeed worthless.

Women’s Property Initiatives is a not-for-profit, women-specific, Registered Housing Provider and licensed estate agency. Their mission is to build a secure future for disadvantaged women and their children, which they achieve by working with the private, public and non-government sectors to develop high quality, safe and affordable housing where rent is charged at no more than 75 percent of the market rent. They have a small, but growing, property portfolio.

Fifty years after the War on Poverty began in the United States of America, millions of women are still struggling to get by. In The Female Face of Poverty, published in The Atlantic, Maria Shriver explores the lives of the women and children who make up nearly 70 percent of Americans living in poverty or on its brink.

And now to a treat from 1983. ‘The Impossible Dream’ is an animated film, co-produced by the United Nations with Dagmar Doubkova of Kratkty Films, Czechoslovakia, that takes a wry humorous look at a problem faced by women everywhere: the double-workload of a full-time job and being a housewife. A few cultural references and animation qualities have an ‘80s time stamp, but the question is as relevant today as ever: is gender equity in the home and family the impossible dream?