on Women’s Right to Adequate Housing ‘The interlinkages between multiple discrimination and
Women’s Right to Adequate Housing’ the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, supported by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,
in cooperation with European Roma Rights Centre
Following the request of the Commission of Human Rigths to prepare a study on women’s access to adequate housing, the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Mr. Miloon Kothari, supported by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), decided to organise this Regional Consultation on Women’s Right to Adequate Housing for Central-Asia/Eastern Europe as part of a series of regional consultations. The Regional Consultation was hosted by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) in Budapest, Hungary.
The ERRC prepared the present report. We would like to thank OHCHR for their collaboration and all ERRC staff that helped in putting this together.
Also we would like to thank the valuable contribution of the resource persons: The UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing Mr. Miloon Kothari, Joseph Schechla from Habitat International Coalition, Katrine Hellum Oren from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Dianne Post from the European Roma Rights Center.
The following persons have collaborated in compiling this report: Ostalinda Maya, Claude Cahn, Tara Bedard, Stefanie Ligori, Marijana Jasarevic and Azam Bayburdi.
We are immensely grateful to all the participants of the Regional Consultation for sharing with us their experience and knowledge and without whom this Consultation would have not been possible.
Table of Contents
Executive Summary 4-5
Part I. Pre-Consultation Training 6
Part II. Summary of Testimonies 6-13
Main findings 13-18
Cross Cutting Issues 18-20
Position Paper 20-38
Appendix I. (full testimonies) 39-72
Appendix II. Agenda 73-79
Appendix III. List of participants and organisers 80-81
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, by its resolution 2000/9 established the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination, and requested him inter alia, to report on the status, throughout the world of the realization of the rights that are relevant to the mandate and to develop cooperation with States, UN agencies, international financial institutions and civil society for the realization of rights related to his mandate. In its resolution 2002/49 on women’s equal ownership of, access to and control over land and equal rights to own property and to adequate housing, the Commission entrusted the Special Rapporteur with the additional task of preparing a study on women and adequate housing. On this basis, the Special Rapporteur held several regional consultations on women’s right to adequate housing, which resulted in reports to the Commission in 2003 and 20051. The Commission’s resolution 2003/22 specifically encouraged the holding of further regional consultations on the issue. In April 2006 the Special Rapporteur will present his final report on the study to the Commission during its 62nd session.
The regional consultation for Central Asia/Eastern Europe which took place in November 2005 in Budapest, Hungary, is part of the series of consultations which responds to the request of the Commission, and which will contribute to the Special Rapporteur’s finding in his final report to the Commission in 2006. The regional consultation was organized by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in cooperation with the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC).
The regional consultation in Budapest is the eleventh regional consultation that has been organized with the objective of providing an opportunity for civil society to have input into the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Adequate Housing’s report on women and adequate housing, and to provide information to contribute to the advancement of women’s rights. This regional consultation was conducted between the 20th and 23rd of November 2005 in Budapest, Hungary. Fifteen representatives from women’s NGOs in fourteen different countries participated in this session. The consultation consisted of a two day pre-consultation training on how to monitor violation's of women's housing rights, and two days of testimonies provided by participants on various themes.
Part I: Pre-Consultation Training.
In this part of the consultation, participants heard presentations on right to adequate housing matters, and provided various concepts of what housing means for women. One objective of the training was to provide participants with the legal sources of the Human Right to adequate housing, specifically from a gender perspective. Another objective was to introduce to the participants the Tool Kit to monitor violations of housing rights and the Loss Matrix for determining the costs arising from a violation. Particular attention was paid to the issue of multiple discrimination, particularly in the context of discrimination on the basis of gender and ethnicity.
Participants prepared and delivered testimonies concerning the following themes:
Legal and cultural obstacles to land inheritance and property rights of women
Forced evictions, discrimination and racial segregation in the field of housing
Roma and the right to adequate housing
Armed/ethnic conflict, militarism and fundamentalism
The main objectives of this consultation were:
To examine the main obstacles hindering full and effective realization of women’s right to adequate housing, in order to promote substantive equality for women, and thereby inform the normative content of the right to housing.
To exchange approaches, methodologies and strategies for mutually strengthening the monitoring and advocacy, for the advancement of women's human rights.
To contribute preliminary findings and recommendations for the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing for his 2006 report on women and housing
To examine issues of state and non-state actors' accountability with respect to women’s right to adequate housing and identify actions for ensuring accountability within the human rights framework.
The ERRC is also providing, as incorporated below, a position paper on Women, Housing Rights and Pariah Minorities, derived from testimonies provided by women in the course of the Regional Consultation, as well as from the ERRC’s experience in documenting housing rights abuses against Roma and other pariah minorities in Europe and in countries of the former Soviet Union, as well as in undertaking advocacy and legal work to challenge these.
Transcripts of testimonies, the agenda of the Regional Consultation and the list of participants are included as appendices to this Report.
Part I: Pre-Consultation Training (20-21 November)
One objective of the training was to introduce the participants to the legal concepts and framework of the right to adequate housing, gender equality, non-discrimination of women and multiple-discrimination. Other objectives were to introduce them to the HIC-HLRN Tool Kit for monitoring Housing Rights violations and the Loss Matrix to quantify the looses caused by violations of housing rights. An emphasis was made that the tools and concepts should be applied in the context of the participant’s experiences.
In this consultation, particular attention was given to the issue of multiple discrimination. Violations of housing, land rights, and gender discrimination are often intertwined, but gender is only one of the many criteria in which discrimination can occur. Other types of discrimination mentioned by the participants included discrimination based on sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, nationality, rural women, etc. These different criteria overlap resulting in a particularly vulnerable group, this phenomenon is known as multiple or intersectional discrimination. During the training it became evident that there are particular groups that face the burden of double discrimination such as minority women, IDP women, migrant women, women living in poverty and this affects their housing rights.
Part II: Testimonies One of the main objectives of the consultation was to provide the chance to women from grassroots organizations, small and medium sized NGOs, as well as women in their individual capacity to provide testimonies based on their personal experiences of housing rights issues and violations.
Such testimonies were provided during Part II of the consultation (22 and 23 November) by fifteen participants from fourteen different countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Serbia (Kosovo), Slovakia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Ukraine) under the following five themes:
Legal and cultural obstacles to land inheritance and property rights of women
Forced evictions, discrimination and racial segregation in the field of housing
Roma and the right to adequate housing
Armed/ethnic conflict, militarism and fundamentalism
A summary of these testimonies follows below.
A. Testimonies on Legal and Cultural Obstacles to Land Inheritance and Property Rights of Women.
1. Ketevan Jeladze. Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (Georgia).
2. Kanoat Khamidova. League of Women Lawyers (Tajikistan).
3. Kayrgul Sadybakasova. Association to Support Women Entrepreneurs (Kyrgyzstan).
Georgia. Ecological migrants.
Georgia is among the high-risk group of countries concerning natural disasters as a result of its geographical location. Natural disasters have caused homelessness of approximately 150,000 people, who have often been forced to migrate and who have in these cases become ecological migrants. Dwellings in zones at high risk of natural disasters are inhabited mainly by children, elderly and women, as men tend to migrate for employment reasons to towns and cities. Ecological migrants are settled in various regions of Georgia, often in substandard houses that do not meet basic conditions for dignity. Moreover, these houses are generally not owned by their inhabitants. Some of these persons – those who have nowhere else to go -- often “squat” abandoned houses and thus incur the ire of property owners.
When the government resettles some of these ecological migrants, it generally does not take into account or act adequately to address cultural conflicts and conflicts between the newcomers and local people, where these arise. Ecological migrants are not compensated by the State and accommodation is only provided on a temporary basis. National legislation and regulations partially or incompletely protect the rights of these ecological migrants. There is no specific law defining the status of ecological migrants and/or solving the problem of their resettlement.
In Tajikistan, the negative effects that polygamy has on women and their children was emphasised. Although having more than one wife is illegal by law, it continues to happen on a large scale, at all levels and with widespread acceptance in practice. In Tajikistan, every second man has at least two wives. For women, it is very difficult to prove in court that a man has more than two wives, as in order to prove such a thing, in practice she is generally required to prove that the man owns the houses where the second or third wives are living. The society dictates that when a woman gets married, she has to move in with her husband’s family. This practice puts them in a very vulnerable situation, as in case of divorce, she would face homelessness. Also, women do not inherit property, so in cases where the husband dies or seeks a divorce, she and her children must leave the house. The culturally practised divorce process in Tajikistan consists of repeating three times “You are not my wife”. Another issue is that of premature and henceforth unregistered marriages, in which women and their children are without any legal entitlements in the case of separation. To this should be added the burden of expensive cost that litigation represents for most women.
In Kyrgyzstan, the rural population of women – a high degree of Kyrgyzstan’s population lives in rural areas -- face many problems related to land ownership and inheritance. Land tends to be passed on from male to male. Patriarchal traditional rules of land ownership permeate state legislation. In cases where a woman wants to challenge these practices, she is often coerced by families, particularly male family members, to abstain from claiming legal inheritance rights. The few women who decide to pursue cases in court often find the process humiliating, as most judges are men who also hold patriarchal views and rule against women’s access to land and property. There have been instances of sexual harassment of women in courts. According to Kyrgyzstan law, after divorce, a woman has to prove that she has somehow contributed to the ownership of the property, which is extremely difficult, especially for housewives. Further to this, laws passed at a national level on land and property are often ignored by local courts in rural areas, and very often women are unaware of their rights.
Testimonies on Discrimination and Segregation in Eviction and Housing
Mariya Shark (Kazakhstan)
Blanka Kozma (Hungary)
Sehnaz Turan (Turkey)
There is a huge gap between the law on paper and what happens in practice. Poverty and unemployment among women has increased since the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, nowadays almost half a million households in Kazakhstan are managed by single mothers with children, frequently under-age children. Women tend to be employed on a temporary basis or in low paid jobs despite the fact that women achieve higher educational levels. Although according to the law everybody has the right to buy, keep and sell property, thousands of unemployed women are deprived of this possibility. As a result of their employment situation, many women do not have access in practice to credit in order to buy a house. This situation put women dependant on their husbands or family to have somewhere to live.
Roma often live in segregated settlements in very poor conditions that lack even the most basic services such as water, sewage removal, drinkable and/or running water, heating, etc. Inadequate housing has very negative effects on the health of women and children, which often is manifested in hepatitis, asthma, pneumonia and numerous infectious diseases. Substandard slum settlements tend to be located in impoverished areas with little possibility of employment. Many families are headed by the mother and the birth rate tends to be particularly high compared to the non-Romani population in Hungary. Romani children are sometimes removed from their families under the argument that the parents cannot provide for their children. These children are frequently placed in state institutions. Although there is a law in Hungary that forbids the removal of children for financial reasons, state authorities continue this practice. Romani boys and girls who grow up in these institutions are forced to leave at the age of 18, frequently rendering them homeless. With no family and little education, they become easy targets of prostitution and trafficking.
Turkey. The Housing Rights of the Displaced Kurds in Turkey and the Situation of Women
Since the state of emergency was declared in 1984 several hundreds thousand Kurdish people have been evicted and their homes destroyed by Turkish local authorities from their rural homes in Turkey. As a result there has been an increasing number of Internally Displaced Kurds that have moved to cities. Most of them live in precarious housing conditions with insufficient and dirty drinking water, lack of electricity or improper disposal of sewage and garbage. In some cases, temporary tents have become a permanent place of residence, while others have moved in with relatives into overcrowded houses. This has had very negative effects on the health and access to health of the Kurdish community, but particularly Kurdish women who present a high incidence of health problems such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, malnutrition, fear, psychological uneasiness and anxiety stemming from living in a alien environment. NGO’s have noted the particularly high suicide rate among displaced Kurdish women in the city of Batman. Access to health care is particularly difficult for Kurdish women due to widespread economic problems, lack of health and other social insurance, the difficulties encountered due to linguistic and cultural differences and faith in traditional and religious values. Often IDPs are denied green cards to access health care services as they are granted only to people without any property and many IDPs have property which they cannot access. One of the reasons why many displaced Kurdish are afraid of returning to their original houses and villages is the fear of injuries caused by land mines explosions.
Testimonies on Multiple Discrimination
Maryna Karavai (Belarus)
Zola Kondur (Ukraine)
Uralova Svetlana (Russia)
Belarus. People Living on Toxic Land
The Trostenec landfill site is located 5 km outside Minsk. Tones of waste are accumulated here from various sources, such as the Minsk waste processing plant, industrial waste from the varnish-and-paint industry, pharmaceutical industry waste, building waste, and other types of waste. Several tens of thousands of people live within the area affected by toxicity. Those affected are primarily homeless children, women and farmers. The high toxicity of the environment has numerous long-term effects health impacts. Women are particularly exposed dues to its daily tasks such as burning waste to heat their house or to cook as toxics concentrate in the air and in the food.
Ukraine. Discrimination against Romani Women within their Own Communities
Romani women in Ukraine suffer discrimination by the society at large for being members of a disadvantaged ethnic group. Moreover, they also face discrimination within their own households for being female. Within their families, Romani women are taught to be obedient wives beginning in childhood, while her opinions are rarely if ever taken into account. Vital decisions such as with whom to get married are often made by the elder male members of the family. In some cases when the family has too many children, the girl might even be sold to marry to another family. After marriage, the girl becomes a woman and she has to move to the house of her husband’s family. In case of divorce, she would have to leave the house, but tradition dictates that she would have to leave her children behind as they will now be part of her husband’s family. After divorce, Romani women face a very vulnerable situation without her children, homeless and victims of social stigmatization by her community and her own family. Romani settlements tend to be located far away from cities and villages and other services such as hospitals, schools and jobs. The conditions in such settlements tend to be very poor with no running water, no electricity and no heating. Local authorities are aware of the situation but do little to nothing to improve it. This contributes to the continuation of the difficult situation of Romani girls and women in Ukraine.
Russia. Vulnerability of elderly women and single mothers to housing problems.
The demographic situation in the Irkutsk region is the worst in Russia which is reflected in the lower life expectancy of this region, particularly of men, compared to any other area of Russia. This results in a high number of elderly women and widows. The economic opportunities of these women are few, while housing is extremely expensive. So women, particularly the elderly, live in very old houses made of wood which often catch fire. A high divorce rate results in many single mothers. Programs have been designed to improve the housing situation of young families, but single mothers are often excluded from these programs as they are not considered a family. Also, the situation of economic migrants in terms of housing it’s very difficult. Many young women with no housing prospects leave to work abroad and fall victim to trafficking. Programs or laws passed often do not help because of the corruption of state officials.
Testimonies on Roma and adequate housing
Elena Konstantinova (Russia)
Katarina Soltesova (Slovakia)
Russia. Discriminatory traditions among the Romani community.
Ms Ivanova Tatjana was abducted at the age of 13 and had her first child when she was 15. She became a widow and single mother of two daughters at the age of 22. Then she was expelled from the household of her husband’s family. After this she faced extreme poverty and was forced into prostitution. A common tradition in the Romani community is the virginity test, which consists of introducing a white cloth into the vagina of the girl and breaking the hymen. Some girls are injured during the test and bleed various days but they are not taken to the hospital. Some Romani groups continue the practice of buying brides. Romani often do not have access to any benefits and sometimes face the attacks of skinheads even in their own houses. When such attacks are reported to the police, the police generally ignores them. Romani women also face violence from their husbands. There have been cases of Romani women being infected with AIDS by their husbands. This entails stigmatization of her daughters by the rest of the community (they cannot get married). Housing conditions have significantly deteriorated since the fall of the Soviet regime. Nowadays Romani women face terrible housing conditions that lack even the most basic services. In addition to intrinsic harms, this also affects the schooling of the children. Romani women have traditionally been the breadwinners of the family. Elderly Romani women are in a particularly vulnerable situation.
Slovakia: Segregation of minorities
In Slovakia many Roma live in segregated settlements in rural areas or in ghettoes in the cities. Sometimes ghettoes are created by the municipalities themselves such as the Kosice Roma ghetto which houses between two and three thousand people. No land ownership. When Romani women marry they often move to the household of her family’s husband, which might be located in another district or region, but they do not get residence permit so they have to travel to their own families’ place of residence in order to have access to services such as health care. In order to apply for social housing one of the criteria that needs to be fulfilled is to be a resident for several years in the same district. This puts Romani women at a disadvantage because they change residence after marriage. Romani women are excluded from education and the labour market, and because of the terrible housing conditions, they cannot even perform with dignity her traditional role taking care for her children, house and family.
Testimonies on Armed/Ethnic Conflict, Militarism and Fundamentalism: Internally Displaced People
Dija Gidzic (Kosovo)
Sanela Besic (Bosnia & Herzegovina)
In 1999, the houses of 8000 Roma Ashkali and Egyptians (RAE) were burnt down in Mitrovica by Albanians while KFOR forces were standing by. Some of them escaped to Serbia or other countries, 800 of them having nowhere else to go were placed by UNHCR in four IDP camps in north Mitrovica, Zvechen and Leposavich for a limited period of time (45 days). These camps are located next to a lead mine in a highly toxic area. Six years later, around 560 of them remain in these camps. Lead poisoning causes irreversible brain damage and particularly affects children and pregnant women. Thirty nine people have already died from lead poisoning. Romani women, seeing their children getting sick, are trying to avoid having children by having self-induced abortions. Out of 49 women interviewed who were pregnant one year ago, only nine gave birth. The rest were all miscarriages, abortions or still-births. The conditions in the camps are appalling. Some of the camps lack electricity altogether and those which have electricity, suffer frequent outages. In one of the camps, there is no source of water and women have to walk outside of the settlement to get water and face harassment by the outside community. The terrible housing conditions in the IDP camps have an unequal impact on women. Children get sick for the exposure to lead and women are the ones who have to look after them. Substandard housing also means that women have more problems with cooking, cleaning, and the caretaking which is perceived as the responsibility of women. Women and children are the ones that spend more time in the camps so they are more exposed to the lead.
Bosnia & Herzegovina
During the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romani settlements were literally demolished, and other buildings have since been built in the same place. In other cases, other people have occupied Romani houses and refuse to leave. Roma living in informal settlements or who lived in social housing before the war are frequently excluded from benefits of new property laws and are in many cases ineligible for the aid money that has poured into the country under reconstruction schemes. The Romani population in Bosnia and Herzegovina has the lowest ratio of housing reconstruction compared to any other ethnic group, they are the most numerous ethnic group amongst the homeless in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where more than 70% of Roma are either homeless or do not own the house where they are living. Informal Roma settlements are built on public or private land. These households are particulary susceptible to forced eviction and their inhabitants losing access to their legal residence. Most of the people living in informal settlements lack personal documents. This fact makes schooling of children and development of the social security chart difficult. Less than 1% of the Romani population is employed. Most Romani ‘’houses’’ do not have water, electricity, sanitation or telephones. Their houses are mainly located in rural areas.
Testimonies on Domestic Violence
Anahit Gevorgyan (Armenia)
Matanat Azizova (Azerbaijan)
Since the transition from communism to capitalism, domestic violence has increased in Armenia. Unemployment and migration has disturbed the balance of family roles. In Armenia there is a housing shortage. Women who suffer domestic violence and have no access to other housing are often forced to stay in abusive situations. As a result of the housing problem, courts divide the house between the ex-husband and the ex-wife. That is, for example, the living room goes to the husband and the bedroom goes to the wife, but they have to share the bathroom and the kitchen. Ownership rarely is recognized as the woman’s, so women are forced to stay in the same house. This creates a height risk of repeated domestic violence.
In November 2005, in the Lenkoran district of the Republic of Azerbaijan there were three cases in which women set themselves on fire. All of them had identical problems -- they were physically abused by their husbands. Several times they left their homes for their parents’ houses, but they were allowed to stay there only for some days. After persistent encouragement from the elder representatives of the community, they were forced to return to the homes of their husbands where they were repeatedly beaten up. In none of the above-mentioned cases, either the relatives or the old representatives of the community tried to convince the husbands of the women to stop the violence. After the women died, no criminal actions were filed against the husbands. If the women had had places to move to, or work in order to support themselves, they could have been able to rent flats and might have not committed suicide. This is just an example from one single region. Similar cases occur frequently.
There is an Azerbaijani saying, “when girls leave the house to marry – now only their corpse can return”. Traditionally property is passed on from father to younger son. When an Azeri woman leaves her family’s household to get married, the common property that she will share with her husband is registered with her husband’s family. If he dies, she can apply for compensation, but in practice the property of the couple will become property of the husbands family and she will be left homeless. Therefore women have little access to property. This situation leaves victims of domestic violence with hardly any option. If women decide to report instances of domestic violence to the police, authorities might not listen, or the victim might face further violence at the hands of the police. All policemen in Azerbaijan are male and corruption is widespread.
Main Findings The testimonies provide insight into the everyday obstacles that women face in claiming their right to adequate housing. The testimonies record the violations and viewpoints that the women shared across country borders, classes and ethnicity. A thematic summary of the main findings, derived from the testimonies, follows here.
Legal and cultural obstacles to land inheritance and property rights of women
In many countries throughout both Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, women often marry at a very young age. These marriages are often not registered. This affects the ability of said women to claim their housing rights.
Patriarchal cultural practices affect the ability of women to inherit property. The family home and property tends to be passed from father to son, excluding female children from inheriting a house or property from her parents. When new couples marry, common property is often registered only in the husband’s name or in his family’s name to ensure that the property stays on his side of the family.
When women marry, a common practice is to move into the husband’s family’s household. This practice places women in a particularly vulnerable situation. In the case of divorce or death of the husband, women are often kicked out of their in-law’s house. A woman’s only option would then be to go back to her father’s family. Women tend to be seen as a burden by society. Women are perceived to be their father’s burden until marriage and, from marriage, the husband’s burden. A woman’s family is therefore reluctant to accept the “burden” back again into their household again. At times, a woman’s family may only allow her to stay temporarily or may not allow them to return at all. In this case women, are rendered homeless.
Women are seen as a burden as a result of societal conviction that women cannot be autonomous/economically independent, thus they are a burden to be shifted upon others. The inability of women to realise the RAH prevents women from gaining autonomy. In Azerbaijan, when a daughter is married and leaves her home, her father says to her ‘now only your corpse may return’. If the daughter returns home – her father and community will pressure her to go back to her husband’s family because she is now part of that family and no longer her parent’s burden. As a result of these cultural practices, women do not inherit housing or property from the family in which they are born into or the family into which they marry.
This has implications in cases of domestic violence, as a woman’s inability to access housing aside from her husband’s intensifies/perpetuates cycles of domestic violence because women who face homelessness often stay in situations of domestic violence because they feel that they do not really have the choice to leave. This cycle is not only supported by men (fathers, husbands, fathers-in-law) but by women themselves (mothers, mothers-in-law).
These traditions persist despite the fact that in most cases, laws regulating property rights are gender neutral. One way to address this issue is by adopting substantive laws specifying remedy to be made available in cases of violations of women’s rights, however, in cases where substantive laws accounting for gender inequality have been adopted in countries of the region, there is frequently tension between law and practice which establish men as the owners of property exists and it is usually social practices that win out. Steps must be taken to ensure the effective implementation of existing laws, in addition to adoption of new laws.
Divorcees and single women have difficulties obtaining adequate housing of their own due to low income, insufficient social security and exclusion from housing programmes. In rare cases in which divorced women decide to legally claim their right to economic support from their ex-husband and obtain a positive decision, the ex-husband tends to find a way to show that he has little to no income, in order to avoid respecting the court decision. This leaves woman unable to pay rent, especially if she happens to be a single mother.
In Tajikistan, polygamy is widely practiced, despite being prohibited by law. Second and third wives have difficulties proving that the man in question has more than one wife. They also experience great difficulties in accessing adequate housing on their own if they decide to divorce their husband. These women therefore often find themselves homeless. Second or third wives may in any case find themselves in a situation in which they do not have adequate housing, even when still married to their husband, given that men with a number of wives may have difficulties in adequately supporting all wives.
In some cases, laws exist to counter violations of women’s right to adequate housing. However, several factors prevent women from accessing this legal right:
pressure from the community and family – acts against a woman’s husband or his family are seen as disrespectful and shameful (reputation damaged);
harassment by municipal authorities who, irrespective of the laws that exist, believe that women ‘have never owned property, therefore should never own property’;
traditional/community courts composed of older men in the community enforce patriarchal practices and further harass women who attempt to bring cases; and
general distrust for authorities, police and legal systems mean that women are discouraged from pursuing legal redress for rights violations.
Discrimination and segregation in eviction and housing
Women are dependant on men (father, husband, son) for legal security of tenure. Unwed daughters depend on their father to secure a household. After marriage, women are dependant upon their husband or in-laws and elderly women are dependant upon their sons. Widows and divorcees without an economically independent son do not have a man to depend on and are therefore particularly vulnerable to homelessness.
Segregation of communities and/or segregated housing often means limited access to goods and services, which adversely affects women’s roles as mother and caretaker. Segregated housing affects women and girl children adversely in terms of access to education and healthcare. In the field of education, men have traditionally had priority with respect to education. Segregated housing provides a further barrier to the access of women to education because the increased distance to schools and the perceived threats this may cause compounds traditional views or widespread practices whereby women do not go to school. Segregated housing also means that sources of employment (and income) are more difficult to reach. It is men who are perceived as the breadwinners by society. This translates into women being discouraged from seeking employment or, in cases in which they do work, they are more likely to be employed in the temporary or part time sector. This means that women spend more time in segregated communities. A cycle therefore exists in which segregated housing presents a barrier to access education, which is barrier to access adequate employment, which is barrier to a stable income. Lack of income is then a barrier to secure adequate housing and which renders women further dependant on men.
Segregated housing is often inadequate or substandard housing – this carries with it many consequences for women; to their health, their children’s health and to their ability to perform their daily tasks with dignity. Segregated housing frequently increases the workload of women and the burden created by these tasks/traditional roles. Women spend more time at home so living conditions affect them more (see Kosovo testimony). Segregated housing is often informal – lacking formal address/registration/ownership – and the inhabitants of such cannot get the proper documentation and access basic services. It is not just distance – segregated housing is not just physically segregated but administratively segregated. Therefore women and children living in a segregated area experience both physical and administrative barriers to access to education and health care services. This affects a woman’s ability to provide quality education and health care for herself and her children. All of the above have a particularly adverse effect on women who are seen as the caretakers of their children, husband and husband’s family. Yet the needs of the woman are not taken into account as no one is assigned the role of caring for the mother.
People living in informal housing are under constant threat of forced eviction. Women are adversely affected by evictions because men tend to be out of the house more often while women traditionally stay home and care for the home. Men live in the house but work outside while women live in the house and work in the house. This also means that since women are usually present when evictions take place as they are always in the home, women are the ones that suffer harassment and abuse from police and authorities during evictions. Evictions adversely affect women because they affect her ability to function in her traditional role with dignity.
In most cases, where the legal framework of a country provides legal security of tenure for all (in gender-neutral laws) or even for women (with substantive gender-specific laws), women’s security of tenure remains linked to that of the prominent male figure in her life.
Women are discriminated against on the basis of their gender, but discrimination is only one way in which women may face discrimination. Others possible grounds for discrimination include age, ethnic background, marital status, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, motherhood or lack thereof, nationality, etc. These different identities overlap at times and result in heightened vulnerability of already vulnerable groups. This is known as multiple discrimination. Multiple discrimination affects the ability of women to access adequate housing in the following ways.
Healthcare: Sometimes minorities are put together in segregated areas which are distant from cities and towns, including hospitals and health care centres. Moreover, very often these settlements do not have adequate roads and lack public transportation. Cases have been reported of women not picked up by ambulances when attempting to go to hospital to give birth. Also, sometimes medical staff will refuse to visit these settlements, which negatively affects the vaccination of children. Women as familial caretakers are the ones responsible for dealing with the extra work of finding transportation to the hospital and dealing with the medical staff.
Harassment by authorities: Society often holds negative stereotypes of minority groups living in segregated housing areas. This has negative consequences, such as regular police raids of segregated housing areas. Women, who traditionally spend more time in the home, are more likely to have to deal with the police. Furthermore, because women are viewed as sexual objects, women in these situations are more vulnerable to sexual violence by authorities already in an aggressive stance.
Unemployed women without any source of income are more likely to live in substandard housing. This housing is often not secure in terms of providing a safe environment, making female inhabitants of such housing more vulnerable to entry and attack, including robbery and sexual violence. Further, women who cannot access employment or women who work only temporarily have difficulties accessing credit and loan schemes in order to secure adequate housing.
Single women living on their own are viewed as vulnerable and are more likely to be attacked in their own house. Single mothers may also face a situation in which their family is not recognized as such by the state, therefore single women/single mothers may be excluded from housing programmes.
Access to justice/means to seek redress: Women with low income, such as unemployed or single mothers face additional barriers when trying to claim their rights legally, such as in case of divorce as they cannot afford the cost of taking a case to court, especially in corrupt countries. This poses yet another barrier to women in accessing adequate housing and homelessness arises as a serious and plausible threat for women in this situation.
Female members of minority groups living in segregated housing face additional barriers to accessing education and employment, which, in turn, affects their ability (and their children’s ability) to access adequate housing.
Roma and the right to adequate housing (subset of multiple discrimination)
Romani children in Hungary are removed from their families by authorities in very disproportionate rates, as compared with non-Roma. There are clear indications that racial discrimination infects rates of removal from family care/placement in state care. Decisions to remove children from family care often linked to housing conditions, or are rendered immediately following a forced eviction. Romani children removed from their biological families are often placed in state institutions where the conditions may be substandard, education may be below average and/or racially segregated. Little provision is made in such institutions to ensure the preservation of their Romani identity. When at the age of 18 they become adults according to the law, in most cases they must leave such institutions. Frequently, such persons become homeless, without the support of a family, are discriminated against due to high levels of anti-Gypsyism, and cannot access employment because of the lack of education and vocational training. Roma women often become targets for forced prostitution and trafficking.
Minority women are often victims of discriminatory traditions. In the Romani community, women change their residence to that of their husband’s family after marriage, which has many consequences in terms of access to health care or when applying for social housing (for example, in Slovakia, one needs to reside in the same municipality for several years in a row in order to access services). Furthermore, in case of divorce or death of the husband Romani women might become homeless, face poverty and stigmatization.
Throughout Europe, Roma live in segregated settlements or ghettoes with substandard housing, which located far away from schools and hospitals. They often lack running drinkable water, sewage systems, electricity, heating, etc. This not only has enormous health impacts and generally brings about a significantly increased work burden for women and children, it also has an impact on the ability of such women to perform their everyday tasks with dignity. Roma are also sometimes placed on toxic land.
In many cases, housing segregation leads to educational segregation.
Violations of housing rights such as forced evictions, substandard housing and segregation put Romani women, migrants, refugees, victims of domestic violence and other groups in a further vulnerable and marginalized situation.
Armed/ethnic conflict, militarism and fundamentalism
During armed conflicts, many men die leaving behind many widows and single mothers who do not have access to their family homes because they are not registered as co-owner with their deceased husbands and may not have property rights in any case. Society does not view women as worthy of owning a home or property, thus they are rendered homeless as a result of armed conflict.
During armed conflict, houses are damaged or destroyed. This destruction causes extra stress for women whose traditional role is to care for the home and family as not only has her home been affected, but her workload has been increased.
The distribution of new housing facilities post-conflict is male oriented. Following an armed conflict, women are more often rendered homeless or must depend on any male survivors in their family in order to secure housing.
Houses are often damaged or destroyed during armed conflict and this is particularly common when the root of the conflict is ethnic animosity. In numerous conflicts in the past decade, ethnic groups have been expelled and their houses burned down as way to ensure that they will not come back. Members of minority groups have been particularly affected in access to social housing post-conflict because they tended not to keep records of having lived in social housing prior to the conflict and therefore, experience barriers to moving back into said housing.
Inadequate housing increases stress and contribute to situations in which domestic violence may take place. Societal distinctions between the public and private domains exacerbate situations of domestic violence as men are seen as owners and controllers of the private domain, which has tended to be viewed as off limits from the state in the past, particularly in the region. Therefore, doctors, police officers and other authorities tend to turn a blind eye to the abuse of women and children in the home because it is seen as an infringement on a man’s sovereignty over his household. Domestic violence is widely a taboo subject. The home and the house are considered a private place, where authorities should not interfere.
Because women tend not to be the legal owners of property, for reasons outlined in previous sections, they do not have power, control or a voice in the private domain. This creates a situation in which domestic abuse is able to persist unchecked by any force. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that men, for the most part, control the public sphere as well.
Female victims of domestic violence, for legal or cultural reasons as outlined above, often face homelessness if they decide to leave their aggressor/s. This is also the result of a lack of social protections networks for female victims of domestic violence, including housing support programmes and safe shelters, as well as economic support and the stigma attached to women who are divorced/have left one’s family, which results in a lack of support from family and friends. Many women, as a result, decide to remain in violent home environments, resigning themselves to a life of abuse.
In rare cases in which women decide to turn to the police for protection from their aggressors, police officers, who are most often men, very frequently do not provide protection for the female victim. This can be the result of many reasons, including a lack of belief in the woman’s story, the belief that the home is untouchable, prejudice, that it is the woman’s fault if she is beaten, etc. These women may also be subjected to further ill-treatment, such as being patronised, judged negatively, harassed or worse.
One of the main themes arising repeatedly in the course of the consultation was that discrimination has multiple facets that often overlap. A woman can suffer discrimination on a number of grounds at the same time, and these types of discrimination may in many cases compound each other and/or create distinct phenomena of discrimination. This is one of the reasons why women may also be perpetrators of discriminatory acts or other forms of abuse. Given the history of ethnic tensions in the region, issues of multiple-discrimination based on gender and ethnicity acquired a great emphasis on this consultation.
In the Home
Social practices derived from religion or tradition or widespread social convention continues to dominate the private sphere. Men are seen as belonging in the public sphere while women are seen as belonging in the private sphere. However, men are traditionally the legal or actual owners of house, land or dwelling and also dominate and control the private sphere. Women are perceived to be part of the property or an extension of the house and as an object and, therefore, are treated as such. Violence against women in the form of physical, sexual or psychological abuse is widespread across all of the countries covered by the consultation. Lack of security of tenure derived from traditional beliefs that see men as the only legitimate owners of the household places women in positions of constant insecurity and often makes women dependant upon them, placing them at the mercy of their (possibly violent) husband or other prominent male figure.
In the Community
Women occupy a lesser position in society than men in all of the countries at issue here. Even where domestic laws exist to protect women; these become ineffective when confronted with the force of widespread views about the sanctity and inviolability of the home and where socially accepted patriarchal practices that place women in a subordinated position continue to dominate. Unwritten rules and codes of practice are enforced by the community through shame and other forces, forcing women to desist from claiming fundamental rights.
Lack of education and illiteracy among women weakens the ability of women to know and defend their rights. This is sometimes used by other actors as a justification to discriminate against women and also results in limited participation of women in decision- and law-making and planning.
At the State Level
There is a lack of female representation at the state level in all countries. The transition from communism to capitalism was expected to bring positive changes in terms of individual freedoms and human rights. However, in the context of poverty, lack of employment, access to education, violence against women and racism, participants at the consultation stressed over and over again how these positive changes have not materialized and that the actual situation has in most areas become worse. Despite improvements in national legal frameworks and the ratification of many international conventions, implementation has been extremely problematic or nonexistent and the situation of women in terms of accessing adequate housing is not improving.
Conflicting legal regimes (formal law, religious law, customary law) continue to coexist. Gender-neutral laws are not sufficient to provide real and effective protection. Laws that account for gender difference and/or provide specific protections from discrimination and other forms of abuse to women may bring change, but only if implemented effectively. Representatives of all countries expressed the view that the effective implement of laws to end discrimination is impossible while (mostly male) state officials continue to hold patriarchal views.
International organisations maintain significant presences in all countries at issue, and in Kosovo are actually the governing entity. International organisations often provide training and assistance without proper knowledge of the area and culture. At times (particularly where they are directly involved in governance), international organisations are also responsible for violations of the right of women to adequate housing or exacerbate the inability of women to access adequate housing.