Mr. Miloon Kothari, Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing at the UN Commission on Human Rights, decried the uphill struggle by women in poverty stricken communities against violence and discrimination, saying governments had to improve legislation to ensure adequate shelter and other rights for women.
“In my report on women and housing to the UN Commission on Human Rights in 2003, I found that the lack of implementation of laws and policies sustains the ongoing gender-based discrimination that underlies such violations of women’s human rights,” Mr. Kothari said. “This gap between the law and reality arises from the existence of gender-neutral laws, which do not always recognise the special circumstances of women. Gender-biased customs and traditions as well as bias in the judiciary and public administration, results in the perpetration of male dependent security of tenure.”
Even where legal remedies may be provided, he said many women could not afford legal remedies. He cited increasing concern about the violence used by State and non-State actors against women who attempt to secure their rights to adequate housing, particularly in situations of forced evictions.
In a statement marking the occasion of International Women’s Day 8 March, he recalled that the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing, has been widely recognised as an important human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. The Covenant, as well as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, also recognises that women and men have equal rights to an adequate standard of living, which includes the right to adequate housing.
“Notwithstanding this, inadequate and insecure housing and living conditions such as overcrowding, indoor pollution, precarious housing, lack of water, sanitation and electricity and inadequate building materials affect women to a larger extent than men,” Mr Kothari said.
“Women living in extreme poverty face much greater risk of becoming homeless or living in inadequate housing and health conditions. Women bear the brunt of forced evictions, especially when evictions are accompanied by violence. Certain groups of women, such as widows of men having died from HIV/AIDS, are at particular risk of being evicted from their homes,” he said.
He said marginalised women who had less secure rights to adequate housing were particularly vulnerable to violence against women, including “single women, women-headed households, widows, women from indigenous, minority or descent-based communities, women living under occupation, women who have been forcibly evicted, women who have faced domestic violence, women who have faced ethnic, armed conflict, women migrant workers and domestic workers, girls, elderly women, women living in extreme poverty, women with disabilities and women with HIV/AIDS.”
Through regional consultations held during 2002 and 2003 in Nairobi, New Delhi and in Mexico City, links between violence against women and the right to adequate housing have been identified and addressed with the aim to contribute to stronger standard setting and to the more strategic use of international treaties to ensure accountability, Mr. Kothari said commending the work of women’s networks in working towards the elimination of violence against women. A call from all human rights groups, in particular women’s groups, for stronger standards to secure women’s right to adequate housing will be an important step towards alleviating vulnerability to gender-based violence.