By: Jo Ferris-Davies
One of the reasons I decided to work and move to South Africa was to make a difference. I think this is something everyone who works in social housing can relate to. I have always been impressed with the commitment of staff and volunteers working in co-ops and non-profit housing. No matter what their role, everyone understood working in social housing was ultimately all about supporting a vision of social equity and justice.
One of the projects I am co-managing here will, I believe, help make a big difference in South Africa. Just to back up though… there is very little research in Canada on the socioeconomic impacts for women and children living in well-located, affordable social housing. We know this through the experience of ONPHA’s (Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association) broad based advocacy campaign on ‘Opening Doors’. ONPHA hired a top notch advertising company with deep roots in social justice. They asked the hard questions – “how do you know social housing is improving the lives of tenants?”. When ONPHA went to look for the answers, there was very little available research. Of course there were stories about how a non-profit or co-op was instrumental to changing a resident’s life, but there wasn’t much quantitative research to back up ONPHA’s provincial campaign about why we need more affordable housing beyond the waiting list numbers.
In South Africa, we are also asking these questions. How is social housing improving the security and socioeconomic well-being of women and children? How can women increasingly play senior roles in managing social housing? How can we ensure that systems are in place so women’s voices are included when developing social housing? How can we ensure that more women are employed in housing construction? In a nutshell, we are looking at social housing through a gender lens and asking the hard questions.
The Equal Spaces Project has hired a gender specialist to help us develop a gender equality strategy for social housing in South Africa to address these questions. No doubt, it will start with a better understanding of the demographics – how many women are living in social housing in South Africa? How many women-led families with children are living in SHIs? The gender strategy will go well beyond this to help the South African social housing sector to routinely think and take action with a consistent gender lens applied to their day to day work.
As this initiative unfolds, we will continue to report on the process and direction this strategy takes so that everyone can share this experience.