By Jo Ferris-Davies
The Equal Spaces Project is committed to helping develop a gender equality strategy for the social housing sector in South Africa. Based on this the project will support some initial interventions.
There is very little information available in South Africa about the situation of women in social housing. Our first step was to hire a local consultant to complete a gender analysis and develop a strategy. After reviewing relevant legislation, sector background information and available data, she conducted key informant interviews with people involved social housing. We also carried out focus groups in three cities with women of different ages living in social housing and administered almost 100 tenant surveys.
We then identified 10 Key Intervention Areas based on this research. These were reviewed during a National Workshop in late July with participants in Johannesburg and Durban using our new “learning hubs”. (See our July 24 blog).
I was particularly struck by three of the issues presented to the workshop participants.
First, members of the National Association of Social Housing Organizations (NASHO) are doing well in some areas compared to local and international corporate standards. Almost 1/3 of social housing CEOs are women, over 1/3 of board members are women including 27% with women as Board chairs. Overall 55% of all employees are women. The go forward issue will be how to support middle and junior management women staff to move into more senior positions in a rapidly growing sector which needs experienced staff. We need to be more methodical in how SHIs train junior and middle management staff – especially women so they take on broader leadership roles in the future.
Second and more alarming is the existence of sexism and hostility to women working in leadership roles in social housing institutions (SHIs). At a minimum, this will require both strong HR policies which address consequences of sexism and build strong social networks of women employed in the sector. We can draw from Maytree, a Canadian NGO with a wealth of experience and practice in this area.
Third, the rates of gender based violence (GBV) in South Africa are alarmingly high. When I first read through the research I had to take breaks every once in a while just to digest how terrible it is for women here. Even though SHIs provide safe and secure housing, women who live there are still vulnerable to GBV. The strategy speaks to developing GBV awareness and policies and practices. Both housing co-ops and non-profits have embraced this over the past 15 years in Canada and have resources we can use. The strategy also calls for partnerships with other community NGOs and tapping into government resources where they exist. Again, we will draw on Canadian experiences to develop partnerships which brought resources into the social housing sector, in many cases with spectacular results.
The workshop gave us a better sense of the areas we need to prioritize. Participants also shared some of their best practices in promoting gender equality. Overall everyone was extremely enthusiastic about the work and grateful for Equal Spaces taking a leadership role in crafting a thoughtful response to a complicated issue. We now need to step back and use their feedback to refine our plan before we meet again with key stakeholders to finalize the overall strategy and the role Equal Spaces can play over the next two years. The workshop also provided greater clarity on areas in which the Social Housing Regulatory Authority can provide leadership – especially ongoing data collection. .
We will keep you posted on this important area of work as we refine our overall strategy and solidify Equal Spaces role.