The absence of hostel facilities for homeless and vulnerable women was the focus of a major protest rally in Belfast on Saturday, but the issues and the demands went well beyond that.
The ‘Women Demand Better’ rally, organised by UNITE the Union, highlighted the closure of Northern Ireland’s only exclusively female hostel, in May of this year, and the failure of the Department for Communities (DfC) to provide replacement services.
Homeless hostel accommodation should be planned for and funded by DfC, and provided directly by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
The lack of women only accommodation is not a simple administrative matter. Health, well-being and lives are at stake. The Housing Executive, supported by health, social services and mental health services, must step up immediately, assume responsibility and provide a first-class service with the first class staff in waiting.
Women Demand Better also because they are subjected to a disproportionate amount of economic, social and personal hardship as a result of the cost-of-living crisis. Research report after research report is spelling that out very clearly and very painfully.
On average, women earn less than men, because they are more likely to have jobs that pay less than the living wage, because women are also more likely to bear responsibility for managing daily household costs, such as groceries and children’s items and because the majority of unpaid carers are women.
Childcare remains a major obstacle for women returning to, and remaining in, work. For many parents it remains unavailable, or inflexible and unaffordable.
Part time employment and zero hours contracts compound the problems faced by women in the workforce. They do not resolve them.
The gender pay gap persists and leaves women at a further disadvantage.
The lack of a real living wage continues to impact disproportionately on women and young girls.
On top of all that, the problems for women in abusive relationships can be further compounded by the cost-of-living crisis and financial dependency on their abuser.
The Workers Party stands with Women.