In Canada, the gender pension gap is a growing factor of senior poverty that disproportionately affects older women and reduces their well-being, in terms of health and economics. The impact of the gender pay gap extends across the lifespan of most women1 in Canada. This blog illuminates the interaction of the gender pay gap with the gender pension gap.2  

What is the gender pension gap? 

The gender pension gap is the difference in retirement income between older men and women aged 65 and older.i Using data from Statistics Canada, the Pay Equity Office of Ontario calculated the gender pension gap to be 17% across Canada in 2021, meaning for every dollar a man receives in retirement income, a woman will receive 83 cents on average.ii  

The gap widens when looking at private retirement income. Private retirement income comprises voluntary employer or personal retirement plans such as workplace pension plans or personal retirement plans like a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) or pooled registered pension plan (PRPP)iii. In Canada, for every dollar a man receives in private retirement income, a woman receives 75 cents.iv   

What factors cause the gender pension gap?  

One major driving force for lower pensions is the systemic challenges women face in the labour market as they progress through their professional journey. As reflected by the gender pay gap, women typically earn lower wages than men. This is in part because women are more likely to work part-time due to caregiving responsibilities for children or the elderly.v  

Additionally, women remain under-represented in high-earning executive and leadership positions. In 2023, approximately one-third of corporate director roles (34.8%) and executive officer roles (32.3%) are held by women, a slight increase compared to 2022. vi Unfortunately, there is also a decrease in women in senior management roles (39.1% in 2023, down 2.8%) and senior management pipeline roles (42.9%, down 11.9%).vii Diminishing gender diversity in senior management and pipeline management roles means women’s wages will remain stagnant, resulting in less earnings and savings for retirement.   

In the public sector, the gender pay gap is narrowing.viii The public sector typically offers employer or union-based pension plans for woman-dominated occupations, such as education, healthcare, and public administration. Indeed, Statistics Canada reports that women have surpassed men as members of a registered pension plan (RPP) offered by employers or unions, with 2 in 3 women having an RPP being in the public sector compared to 2 in 5 men.ix However, a closer analysis reveals that the declining gender pay gap in the public sector is associated with salary caps being placed on high-earning professions (e.g. senior management and health professionals) rather than an increase in women’s wages (MacDonald, 2024). Therefore, the gender pay gap appears to be decreasing on paper, in reality, women’s earning potential remains stunted even if they are in well-paid professions such as health care and senior management in the public sector because of salary caps. Over the long-term, women professionals in the public sector still will not be able to match the private retirement contributions of male professionals in the private sector.   

Private pension plans often lack a gender-based analysis (GBA+) in design, another contributing factor to the gender pension gap.x  Private pension plans are market-driven, meaning that they are earnings-based and do not account for the gendered employment patterns such as part-time or short-term employment or career gaps that many working women experience.xi For example, defined contribution (DC) plans privilege early contributions to enable greater return on investment. Unfortunately, this design feature often coincides with the life phase of pregnancy or raising children for women, resulting in contribution gaps and reduced pension payouts in the long run.xii

Although contributory plans are now regulated to continue to accrue pension benefits while employees are on parental or emergency leave,xiii professional women who are also mothers experience a “motherhood penalty.” The “motherhood penalty” refers to women who are mothers being perceived to be less competent or loyal by employers, which in turn contributes to reduced wages and thus, impacts their financial ability to contribute to private pensions plans. xiv The significant pay gap between employed mothers and fathers, for instance, demonstrates the financial penalties for working mothers; for men with children in the public sector, their hourly wage is 7% higher than women with children, which doubles in the private sector where men with children earn 14.9% more than women with children.xv 

Another contributing factor is intimate partner violence. Women are more likely to be survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV), and thus experience the deleterious consequences IPV has on employment histories and finances. For example, controlling and isolation tactics used by the abuser affect a woman’s capacity to build professional networks and skills, impact a survivor’s access to basic documentation or needs necessary to gaining employment, such as stable housing, personal government IDs, professional clothing, and computer or internet access.xvi Survivors may also need to take time away from work entirely to address legal and safety concerns related to the abuse. This can lead to resume gaps that are difficult to explain to potential employers.xvii Many IPV survivors also experience economic and financial abuse through which the abuser aims to sabotage education or employment opportunities, control access to finances and economic resources (like transportation, food, and clothing) or exploit the survivor such as stealing or gambling a survivor’s wages.xviii Economic and financial abuse often continues after leaving an abusive relationship, leading to lasting economic and financial setbacks. The factors discussed compound over the life course to impact a woman’s ability to create economic and financial security in retirement.  

What is the social cost of the gender pension gap? 

Poverty amongst Canadian older adults is an epidemic. Poverty undermines the financial security, health and well-being of older Canadians. The latest National Ageing Survey in Canada shows the link between income and health: 40% of Canadians aged 50 years and older are neither in good health nor have inadequate household incomes (about 6 million older Canadians).xix 

Across Canada, 11% of women aged 55-64 are low-income (after tax), growing to 14% of women aged 65-74 and 21% for women over the age of 75.xx In Toronto, 2 out of 5 (42.4%) of older women (65+ years) have after-tax incomes that are below $20,000, compared to one-third (31.2%) of older men in Toronto with incomes below $20,000.xxi  

The gender pension gap is a structural issue contributing to older women’s poverty and ill-being. With the rising costs of living and increasing demands on the Canadian healthcare system and other care services to support older adults ageing in place, the gender pension gap acts as a barrier for senior women to be able to achieve economic justice and an equitable standard of living in Canada.  

What can be done?  

Addressing the gender pension gap requires tackling interconnected aspects of gender inequality. Some key areas to address include closing the gender pay gap, improving gender diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and ensuring supports for survivors are accessible to rebuild their lives. 

WomanACT works collaboratively to eradicate gender-based violence through research, education, and advocacy. Learn more about our work and how you can get involved as a community ally to survivors of violence: https://womanact.ca/  

For more information, resources, and training about elder abuse prevention, visit Elder Abuse Prevention Ontario or Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse.  

For crisis and safety planning for older adults experiencing elder abuse or gender-based violence, please call the 24-hour/7 days a-week Seniors Safety Helpline: 1-866-299-1011 (Ontario residents only) or 1-866-299-0008 (TTY).   

For more senior supports and services across Ontario, search 211.ontario.ca.  

For more supports and services specific to gender-based violence, search Mulberry Finder.  

1. The terms “women” or “woman” used in this blog are inclusive of all woman-identifying individuals, including trans women, cis-gendered women, and non-binary persons.

2. This blog focuses on the experiences of woman-identifying individuals due to limited word count. WomanACT recognizes that social identities, such as race, ethnicity, immigration status, disability, or sexuality, intersect with gender and lead to different experiences of the gender pay gap and gender pension gap. As a general pattern, Black, Indigenous, racialized, immigrant women and gender-diverse people, as well as individuals living with disabilities, will experience a larger gender pension gap exacerbated by systemic racism and ableism, which contributes to intergenerational poverty. An intersectional analysis of the gender pension gap can be found at Ontario Pay Equity Office: Gender Pension Gap | Pay Equity Office (gov.on.ca)

[i] Pay Equity Office of Ontario. (2023). What is the Gender Pension Gap? Gender Pension Gap. https://payequity.gov.on.ca/gender-pension-gap/

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Statistics Canada. (July 13, 2022). Private Retirement Income. Dictionary, Census of Population 2021. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2021/ref/dict/az/definition-eng.cfm?ID=pop194

[iv] Pay Equity Office of Ontario. (2023). Highlights. Gender Pension Gap. https://payequity.gov.on.ca/gender-pension-gap/

[v] Drolet, M. & Amini, M.M. (September 21, 2023). Intersectional perspective on the Canadian gender wage gap. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/45-20-0002/452000022023002-eng.htm

[vi] The Prosperity Project. (2023). The Zero Report: 2023 Annual Report Card on Gender Diversity and Leadership. https://blog.canadianprosperityproject.ca/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/TPP_ARC_2023_EN.pdf 

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Macdonald, D. (February 28, 2024). How the public sector is fighting income inequality (and why it’s still not enough). The Monitor. https://monitormag.ca/reports/how-the-public-sector-is-fighting-income-inequality-and-why-its-still-not-enough/

[ix] Statistics Canada. (June 23, 2023). Pension plans in Canada, as of January 1, 2022. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/230623/dq230623b-eng.htm

[x] Shilton, E. (2013). Gender Risk and Employment Pension Plans in Canada. Canadian Labour & Employment Law Journal, 101-141. https://ssrn.com/abstract=2302820

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario. (n.d.). Events that may affect your pension. https://www.fsrao.ca/consumers/pensions/events-may-affect-your-pension

[xiv] Macdonald, D. (February 28, 2024). How the public sector is fighting income inequality (and why it’s still not enough). The Monitor. https://monitormag.ca/reports/how-the-public-sector-is-fighting-income-inequality-and-why-its-still-not-enough/

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Interval House. (2016). Barriers to Employability and Employment for Women Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence. https://intervalhouse.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Barriers-Report.pdf

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Postmus, J. L., Plummer, S. B., McMahon, S., Murshid, N. S., & Kim, M. S. (2012). Understanding economic abuse in the lives of survivors. Journal of interpersonal violence27(3), 411–430. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260511421669

[xix] Iciaszczyk, N., Neuman, K., Brierley, A., MacDonald, BJ & Sinha, SK. (2023). Perspectives on Growing Older in Canada: The 2023 NIA Ageing in Canada Survey. National Institute on Ageing, Toronto Metropolitan University. https://www.niageing.ca/2023-annual-survey

[xx] Statistics Canada. (2020). Low-income status by age, gender, and year: Canada, provinces and territories, census metropolitan areas and census agglomerations with parts [data set]. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=9810010201&pickMembers%5B0%5D=1.1&pickMembers%5B1%5D=2.3&pickMembers%5B2%5D=3.1

[xxi] Queiser, S., Maddox, R., Wilson, B. & de Jesus-Bretschneider, A. (August 2020). Senior Poverty & Inequity: The Toronto Experience. Social Planning Toronto and Well Living House. https://www.socialplanningtoronto.org/senior_poverty_report

WomanACT’s 2024 Pre-Budget Submission

Violence against women is not only a human rights violation but has devastating physical, emotional, social and economic consequences for women. Housing, homelessness, and intimate partner violence (IPV) are deeply connected. Violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness and housing instability among women and children.[i] One Canadian study found that 75% of women and gender-diverse people experiencing homelessness had experienced violence and trauma in their lifetime.[ii] A lack of access to housing, in addition to a lack of access to income, prevents women from leaving violent situations or lead them into precarious housing conditions. This puts survivors in high-risk situations and often forces them to have to return to their violent home. According to the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, housing must be safe, which includes protection of women and girls against domestic violence.[iii] Therefore, women living in situations of violence are also experiencing a direct violation of their right to housing.

Recommendation 1: Inclusion of “hidden homelessness” in the City’s data collection and housing programs

In preparation for Budget 2024, we propose strategic investments aimed at integrating the concept of “hidden homelessness” into the City’s data collection processes and housing programs. Survivors of gender-based violence can experience homelessness due to a lack of access to safe and secure housing. They may be unable to access the local housing market for various reasons, such as the stigma associated with gender-based violence or because they are unable to afford rent. Because of these barriers, survivors are likely to go to an emergency shelter (35%) or stay with family (22%) or friends (18%) as their initial housing option.[iv] In some cases, they may be living in cars or other temporary arrangements. Unfortunately, this type of homelessness is frequently omitted from official government statistics, rendering it “hidden” and complicating accurate measurement and targeted interventions. When the extent of the problem is underestimated, the necessary support and resources are not provided to those affected.

WomanACT strongly urges the City of Toronto to thoroughly review its data collection policies and commit additional resources to enhance the accuracy of data for intimate partner violence and human trafficking. We encourage the City to engage in advocacy and collaborative efforts with the Federal and Provincial governments to bring about policy changes that include “hidden homelessness.” WomanACT continues to be willing to provide support in advocating at different levels of government.

Moreover, we recommend that the City of Toronto allocate increased resources to housing programs, fostering a more inclusive framework for survivors of gender-based violence. A critical aspect involves reviewing the backlogs of the existing housing programs, adjusting eligibility criteria to include hidden homelessness and implementing relevant mechanisms to prioritize survivors of gender-based violence who are at risk of becoming homeless.

Recommendation 2: Enhancing transit services for safe and violence-free transportation for women and gender diverse individuals

In 2022, WomanACT, in collaboration with Angus Reid, conducted an extensive poll involving 1550 Torontonians to assess safety issues within the transit system. The findings revealed that a staggering 90% of respondents had experienced harassment while using the TTC, and women were more likely to feel unsafe and experience harassment.[v] Given that women exhibit a higher propensity for transit utilization than men, it undeniably represents a pronounced gender-related concern.

The poll indicated that most riders (82%) felt that transit could be made safer with the right investments. Women rated good lighting in and around transit stops, security features such as cameras and emergency buttons, and request-stop programs as the most promising measures.

Moreover, 95% of participants stressed the importance of providing information to the public and transit personnel on identifying and intervening in instances of harassment. The consensus was clear — women’s groups should be actively consulted in developing public transit safety initiatives.

The poll underscored that the top reasons for women opting for alternative modes of transportation over the TTC were a reluctance to wait and issues related to overcrowding. Over half of the respondents articulated a need for increased service frequency. Importantly, women from low-income backgrounds and racialized communities often lack alternative transportation options, making them particularly vulnerable to the ramifications of transit inadequacies.

In light of these findings, we strongly urge the City of Toronto to invest in public awareness/education to support riders in knowing how to keep safe in transit. Additionally, leveraging the insights and recommendations provided by the users will bolster safety further, promote inclusivity, and contribute to the overall enhancement of the transit experience for women and gender-diverse individuals in our community.

Recommendation 3: Diversify the housing continuum by integrating progressive solutions, such as the inclusion of Safe at Home programs

The current economic challenges, compounded by the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, are intensifying the difficulties faced by women experiencing domestic abuse. This financial strain creates additional obstacles, making it challenging for women to leave abusive situations while maintaining economic stability. The limited housing options necessitate women to leave their homes for safety, resulting in heightened housing and economic instability.

To address this, the City of Toronto should take steps to provide survivors with access to affordable housing. This requires a focus on sufficient affordable housing, investment in diverse housing options, prioritization of housing needs for marginalized communities and those at risk of violence, and policy measures supporting survivors to live free from violence in their homes.

The implementation of Safe at Home programs, proven effective in Alberta, the United Kingdom, and Australia, offers additional options for survivors. These programs enable women to stay safely in their existing homes or transition to independent housing with minimal disruption. Through legal tools, safety measures, and comprehensive support services, Safe at Home programs work to remove perpetrators from homes, minimizing harm to women and children. Collaboration among core partners, including community agencies, the criminal justice system, housing providers, and child protection services, has been instrumental in their success.

WomanACT’s two-year research and policy analysis demonstrates that 76% of survivors prefer the option to stay in their homes or independent housing, with less than 10% opting for shelters or staying with family and friends. By implementing mechanisms and allocating resources to facilitate survivors remaining safely in their homes with the perpetrator removed, the City of Toronto can address a significant barrier hindering survivors safety.

Recommendation 4: Support the coordination of existing community tables to ensure the smooth integration of IPV risk indicators into their safety and services assessment processes.

WomanACT proposes strategic investments in enhancing the coordination of existing community tables, to ensure they are using a GBV lens and assessing for evidenced-based risk indicators for intimate partner violence. The aim is to effectively reduce lethality in high-risk IPV cases.

In addition, we know existing community tables review a high volume of cases for multiple marginalized/vulnerable groups. We also advocate for developing an IPV-specific community high-risk table to align with the existing community tables and support risk management of IPV-specific cases in the city. This tailored approach ensures alignment with existing community initiatives, fostering a joint comprehensive and targeted safety planning to respond to IPV. By strategically investing in these high-risk table initiatives, the City of Toronto can fortify its commitment to finding solutions to address the gender- based violence epidemic in Toronto.

Recommendation 5: Increase investment in gender equity initiatives.

As an organization actively involved in collaborative efforts with the City through strategic partnerships with the Gender Equity Office, SafeTO, and HousingTO, we strongly advocate for substantial investments to support the effective implementation and inter-divisional collaboration of gender equity initiatives.

While the development of a gender-equity office and work plan for the unit is a start, the animation and implementation of the Gender Equity unit’s work plan is contingent upon the availability of adequate resources, and strategic cooperation among different City divisions and community organizations. This entails securing a budget to facilitate permanent staffing for coordinating and collaborating activities, allocating appropriate funding for each strategic action and providing resources to support external advisory activities.

Our organization looks forward to sustained collaboration with the City of Toronto to realize a secure and equitable environment for women and gender-diverse individuals.

Recommendation 6: Establish and forge connections between senior and long-term care services and the violence against women sector to provide comprehensive support for senior women facing abuse.

We recommend supporting and establishing a network of specialists that focuses on support for senior women facing abuse. By fostering effective connections, the City can enhance the accessibility of services, promote timely intervention, and create a more protective and supportive environment for vulnerable senior women within the community. The network should focus on raising awareness of the needs of senior women (public education), developing referral pathways and engaging survivors to inform and engage in system change.

A significant discovery from WomanACT’s research on economic abuse and senior women highlights a recurring theme in existing literature. Notably, senior immigrant women are less inclined to report abuse or seek assistance.[vi] Beyond language and isolation barriers, there exists a pervasive fear among senior immigrant women regarding reporting instances of abuse. Stakeholders, including women and service providers, emphasized the imperative of addressing ‘women’s isolation and enhancing access to services, particularly those responsive to the intersecting needs of our diverse communities in Toronto. It was underscored that increasing the community’s and senior women’s knowledge of their rights and available resources is crucial for establishing financial independence and, ultimately, a life free from violence.

Furthermore, service providers also stressed the importance of building the capacity of services to identify and comprehend the available support for victims of abuse.

Recommendation 7: Enhancing public awareness of intimate partner violence in the City of Toronto.

In response to the pressing issue of Intimate Partner Violence and Gender-Based Violence, we strongly advocate for the City of Toronto to allocate dedicated resources towards the implementation of targeted public education campaigns. This strategic investment is critical in elevating community awareness, cultivating a culture of consciousness, and substantively contributing to the prevention and early intervention initiatives against intimate partner violence within our City.

By prioritizing resources for public education, the City has the opportunity to proactively engage and empower its residents. Through well-designed campaigns, we can equip the community with the knowledge and tools needed to recognize the signs of intimate partner violence, encouraging early intervention and support. Furthermore, fostering a culture of awareness will promote a collective responsibility to address and mitigate the impact of intimate partner violence on individuals and families. This recommendation aligns with our commitment to building a safer and more informed community, emphasizing the importance of education as a powerful tool in addressing complex societal issues. The allocation of resources for public education campaigns will not only contribute to the immediate well-being of those affected by intimate partner violence but will also establish a foundation for long.

[i]Baker, C.K., Billhardt, K.A., Warren, J., Rollins, C and Glass, N.E. (2010). Domestic Violence, Housing Instability, and Homelessness: A Review of Housing Policies and Program Practices for Meeting the Needs of Survivors. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15 (6), 430–39.

[ii]Schwan, K., Vaccaro, M., Reid, L., Ali, N., & Baig, K. (2021). The Pan-Canadian women’s housing & homelessness survey. Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.

[iii]United Nations Human Rights. Officer of the High Commissioner. Women and the right to adequate housing. https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/housing/pages/womenandhousing.aspx

[iv]Klingbaum A. (2022) “A Place of My Own” Survivors’ Perspectives on the Safe at Home Housing Model, accessed https://womanact.ca/wp- content/uploads/2022/11/WomanACT_A-Place-of-My-Own-Report.pdf

[v]WomanACT, Infographic: Women and public transit in Toronto (2022) accessed https://womanact.ca/publications/infographic-women-and-public-transit-in-toronto/

[vi]Roger, K.S. Brownridge,D.A., & Ursel, J. (2014) Theorizing low levels of reporting of abuse of older immigrant women. Volence Against Women, 424-434

Violence against women is one of the main causes of homelessness and housing instability among women and children.  

Approximately 30% of Canada’s homeless population are women, 91% of whom have also endured some form of violence or assault in their lifetime.  

Women’s homelessness is often less visible, and women are more likely to stay with family or friends than they are to access shelters or stay on the streets. 

Monica* is a survivor of domestic violence. She fled her home with her young child in 2015. While trying to figure out where to go and how to secure private housing on her own, she began sleeping on couches and in basements.    

When women leave their home to escape violence, they face limited housing options and numerous barriers. There is a lack of affordable housing options available to women and women often report experiencing discrimination from landlords based on having children and being a survivor of domestic violence, as well as stringent eligibility requirements and costs associated with accessing housing.  WomanACT’s Successful Tenancies research found that 64% of respondents have experienced discrimination from landlords when applying to rental housing, with most common forms based on income source, marital status, and race and/or ethnicity. 

As a single mother, Monica routinely met landlords not wanting to rent to her.  

“They were not willing to rent to me, some of them, because I was single. As a single mother they would ask me how I am going to pay?”  

Unable to find a rental apartment or house for her and her son, Monica stayed at a local shelter. During this time, she continued to look for housing in the private rental market. After 6 months, she finally found a landlord through an online housing website that rented to her. Monica spends approximately 70% of her income on rent.   

Leaving home when fleeing violence causes significant life disruptions to survivors. Survivors often lose their jobs because of relocating, lose touch with friends and connections from neighbourhood, and are forced to change their children’s school or childcare. This wasn’t any different for Monica. Moving from place to place was tiring for her and hard on her son. Even with multiple disruptions, Monica can find a source of gratefulness. One thing that she is thankful for is that her son did not have to change schools through all the relocation.  

“The one thing that is steady for my son is school. I am glad I managed to keep him in the same school and keep that stable.” 

Unfortunately, leaving the home and finding new housing doesn’t always equate to safety. Monica is still faced with abusive emails from her ex-partner. 

“The emails are non-stop. He is ridiculing me, trying to keep me down.” 

In her current housing situation, she feels under surveillance by her landlord. 

“There is no privacy. I also must tell my son to be quiet, don’t be loud. They are always watching me, saying oh you went out there. Why do they need to know?” 

She lives in fear of losing her housing and finds herself telling her son to keep quiet and not make a lot of noise to not upset her landlord.   

Access to safe and affordable housing will prevent further violence and allow women to have stability, but it also requires good landlords and housing providers.  

“Once you have stable housing, you can work on yourself. If you are always traveling with so many other things, you cannot. This was my big secret for years, I only shared in 2018 for the first time. It is a miracle that I am sitting here today. I hope that my story can help someone.” 

Check out more research findings from WomanACT’s Successful Tenancies project.

*The name ‘Monica’ is a pseudonym to safeguard the identity of the survivor in this blog.

As the nation prepares to observe the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we emphasize the critical importance of this day in shedding light on the heartbreaking issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. WomanACT, a non-profit organization dedicated to gender equality and anti-violence against women, recognizes the urgent need to address this issue as part of our commitment to social justice and equity.

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation serves as a solemn reminder of our collective responsibility to confront the truth of our history, including the tragic legacy of violence against Indigenous communities, particularly Indigenous women. The day provides an opportunity to reflect on the systemic issues that have disproportionately affected Indigenous women, including the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Indigenous women have endured unimaginable suffering, with their lives tragically cut short or forever altered due to violence and systemic inequalities. This is a deeply disturbing reality that demands our unwavering attention and action. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation compels us to acknowledge and reckon with these injustices, fostering a society where all women are valued, protected, and empowered.

WomanACT stands in solidarity with Indigenous communities and organizations advocating for justice and accountability for missing and murdered Indigenous women. Our mission aligns with the imperative to address violence against women from all walks of life. We recognize that the fight for gender equality and social justice cannot be fully realized without addressing the unique challenges faced by Indigenous women, and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation serves as a platform to amplify their voices and experiences.

As we observe this day, let us remember the lives lost and commit to taking meaningful action. We must work collaboratively to dismantle systemic barriers, promote healing, and ensure that the voices of Indigenous women are heard and respected. By acknowledging the truth and seeking reconciliation, we move towards a future where all women can live free from violence, discrimination, and fear.

Harmy Mendoza

Executive Director, WomanACT


WomanACT is a Toronto-based non-profit organization dedicated to advancing gender equality and addressing violence against women. We strive to create a society where all women are empowered, safe, and valued.

Connect with and support Indigenous Organizations:

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Donate – The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) 

Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls (MMIWG) | ONWA

Indigenous Resources – Native Child and Family Services of Toronto

WomanACT’s submission for the National Housing Council’s Review Panel on the Financialization of Purpose-Built Rental Housing.

Financialization is a growing trend toward the use of housing as an investment to acquire wealth. Financial firms develop housing with a goal of maximizing returns rather than providing affordable homes for the community.

In January 2023, the National Housing Council launched a review panel on the “financialization of purpose-built rental housing.” The Council has invited individuals and organizations to address topics such as the impact of financialization on the human right to adequate housing, especially for communities that experience marginalization. Respondents may outline the actions and inactions by the federal government that have exacerbated the negative impacts of financialization. The panel would like to hear suggestions on how Parliament could address financialization and protect the right to housing. WomanACT prepared the following response.

Survivors of gender-based violence face unique challenges to housing. These include landlord discrimination, poor rental histories and economic insecurity. Survivors require a range of housing options when leaving violence. Financialization of purpose-built rental housing is an obstacle for survivors to remain safely in their private rentals or move to a new private rental, due to limited availability, accessibility and affordability of tenure.

In 2022 WomanACT conducted primary research with survivors on their housing needs and preferences.  In this study, affordability emerged as a key consideration for accessing housing—and ultimately acted as a barrier for many participants. Survivors often mentioned that their housing search was restricted due to finances. Moving expenses alone were prohibitive for some. Survivors faced various economic challenges such as insufficient social assistance rates, financial abuse that affected their credit scores or eligibility for income supports, and the inability to work due to trauma and harassment carrying over into the workplace. These challenges were exacerbated by the broader context of a housing crisis in which rents were becoming less affordable in general.

Survivors did not have one common housing trajectory when leaving a violent relationship. In the most prevalent experience, reported by 58% of participants, survivors left the shared home and their partners stayed. Survivors most often went to an emergency shelter (35%) or stayed with family (22%) or friends (18%). Some survivors initially remained in the shared home without their partners (14%). No participants reported moving to a new home in the private housing market immediately after separation; they had to choose inadequate accommodation options. Overall, 80% of participants reported first accessing a housing option that involved relocation. Many participants endured life disruptions after separating from their partners. At least half of the participants experienced a loss of control over their housing options, the risk of harm from their partner, and disruptions to their social and family relationships.

Impacts of the financialization of purpose-built rental housing on the right to housing

The financialization of purpose-built rental housing significantly impacts the housing system, by prioritizing short-term profits and driving up the prices of the most affordable housing.  This further marginalizes women and survivors of gender-based violence. In 2022, WomanACT researched survivors’ experiences in the private rental market in Toronto; our study shed light on these impacts and highlighted how financialization exacerbated the challenges faced by these individuals.

WomanACT found that most respondents (77%) experienced core housing need, where affordability standards were unmet. Rising rental housing costs made it increasingly difficult for women and survivors of gender-based violence to access and maintain affordable housing options.

Financialization can perpetuate discrimination and create additional barriers in the rental housing market. With the focus on maximizing profitability, landlords favour the most privileged tenants who, they assume, have higher and more stable income.

Our research revealed that 64% of respondents experienced discrimination from landlords during the rental application process, based on income source, family and marital status, or race and ethnicity. This discrimination limited the housing options available to women and survivors of gender-based violence, exacerbating their housing insecurity.

Financialization contributes to housing instability, which disproportionately affects marginalized groups. The research showed that almost one-third of respondents received eviction notices or were evicted from their rental units. Factors such as overdue rent payments and renovictions were cited as common reasons for eviction. The instability caused by financialization disrupted the housing stability of women and survivors of gender-based violence, making it difficult for them to find safe and secure housing.

The research highlighted that survivors relied on various supports and services, such as food programs and social support networks, to maintain their private rental housing and enhance their safety. The lack of affordable and adequate housing options caused disruptions  in accessing food and other vital needs. It compelled survivors to constantly rely on social support mechanisms which often were limited.

These impacts demonstrate that the financialization of purpose-built rental housing deepens the existing systemic issues within the housing system. It reduces housing affordability, reinforces discriminatory practices, increases housing instability, and limits access to vital needs for women and survivors of gender-based violence.

What could the Government of Canada do to address the impacts of the financialization of purpose-built rental housing, and advance the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing?

There has been a lack of robust policy, investment in affordable and social housing, commitment to the Right to Housing, and implementation of the right in federal and provincial policies. Also, actions such as Federal withdrawal from social housing provision in the 1990s, deregulation of rent control and policy support for the securitization of mortgages catalyzed the forces driving financialization. As a result, financialization has limited the access to safe and affordable housing for all Canadians, including women and survivors of gender-based violence.

To specifically address the impacts of financialization on women and survivors of gender-based violence, while advancing the right to housing, the Government of Canada could do the following:

Adopt gender-responsive approaches that recognize the unique challenges faced by survivors in accessing adequate housing. Incorporate a gender lens into housing policies and programs to ensure that survivors’ specific needs are addressed.

The National Housing Council’s Financialization Review Panel is a good opportunity to look at the impact of a significant economic trend. In the research conducted by WomanACT, women and survivors of gender-based violence have shown how financialization marginalizes them further. There are important actions that the government can take to advance the right to adequate housing for communities left behind in the rush to economic growth.

Older women are disproportionately affected by violence. Older women are victims in 58% of family violence cases in Canada[i] and are twice as likely to be victims of intimate partner violence than older men. [ii] In 2021, older women in Ontario had a 12% higher rate of femicide than women aged 18-34.[iii] Typically, the perpetrator is a current or former intimate partner or a male family member like an adult son, son-in-law, or grandson.[iv] These statistics illustrate the significant risk of gender-based violence for women aged 55 and over in their homes and communities.

WomanACT’s Aging, Gender, Equality, and Safety (AGES) project conducted research that engaged with survivors aged 55 years and older to understand better the experiences, needs, and risk factors of older women affected by violence. Survivors shared how aging and gender inequality intersect in many areas of their lives, shaping their risk and experiences of violence.

This blog shares what we heard in our focus groups from older survivors about gender-based violence and key themes from literature to illustrate the experiences of older women affected by violence. These insights aim to increase the knowledge and understanding of services and practitioners to provide age-inclusive wrap-around support for older gender-based violence survivors.

What are the experiences of older women experiencing violence?  

Some researchers advocate for a lifespan approach to understanding violence against older women.[v] A lifespan approach examines the different experiences of violence and power across a women’s lifespan to understand how they interconnect.[vi] Ageism and gender inequality represent significant societal power imbalances that can enable, compound, and perpetuate gender-based violence.[vii] Gender inequality is widely understood as an overarching societal structure whereby individuals are discriminated against based on gender or sexual identity.[viii] Similarly, ageism is a societal construct that perpetuates differential treatment based on age.[ix] Like gender inequality, ageism can show up at the individual level, such as stereotypes about older people as frail or confused, or at the institutional level, such as having systems or programs not designed to meet the needs of older women.[x]

The survivors we spoke with shared their experiences of how ageism and gender inequality compounded to shape their experiences of violence.

Ageism and experiences of gender-based violence  

A couple of AGES participants shared how perpetrators used ageist stereotypes as a tactic of emotional abuse or control. For example, a survivor shared how:

“[the perpetrator] insisted that I have my head examined. I forget what kind of imaging it was. It turned out that I was perfectly normal, there was a slight decrease in a certain area, but that was expected with age. So, I kind of put the fire out of that gaslighting. But there is a tremendous amount of gaslighting going on, and I recognized it years ago that they’re just trying to wear you down.”

This experience illustrates how perpetrators draw upon ageist stereotypes, such as slower cognition, in an attempt to make victims feel bad about themselves and undermine their perception of the abuse.  

Survivors who experience abuse in their older age expressed that the physical changes accompanying aging exacerbated their experience of abuse. For example, they shared how they felt that their age made physical and emotional abuse “more difficult to deal with” and “harder to bounce back” from. Other participants felt that there are “more chances to get hurt” from the abuse in their older years or that the abuse may worsen underlying health issues like diabetes or heart problems.  

The insights from survivors align with findings in academic literature. Research shows that women aged 55 or more who are survivors of intimate partner or family violence experience long-term health effects, such as depression, anxiety, chronic pain[xi], and sexual trauma.[xii] Additionally, changes to their health or financial status, such as a decline in physical or cognitive capacity or retirement, can increase an older survivor’s sense of dependency on those within their immediate social circle, like friends or family relations.[xiii] In short, the physical and societal realities of aging can make experiences of gender-based violence worse and further isolate survivors from seeking help or reporting abuse.  

Ageism within the service system  

Survivors shared their experiences of ageism with services and practitioners. Some participants felt service providers dismissed or downplayed their experiences of abuse because of their age. For example, one participant recalled how her memory of the abuse was questioned because of her age; other participants recounted how service providers told them they were being too sensitive and overreacting.

A common myth participants spoke about was the misperception that older survivors were well-established members of society with access to substantial financial resources or social supports, like friends or co-workers. Survivors believed this misperception contributed to downplaying the seriousness of abuse and led to a lack of urgency in responding to their experiences of violence as an older woman. For example, a participant shared:   

“[Service providers] think that you’re in a good place and they kind of put you behind everybody else. They think, “oh, you’re okay, you don’t need as much help as somebody else.” But they shouldn’t make that judgement not knowing the whole situation. Like my husband took all my money and he has everything under his name, so it’s difficult to think that “oh, she’s ok” when in actual fact, I wasn’t.”

The survivor’s experience illustrates the difference between an ageist stereotype, such as being an established older woman with financial resources, and the lived experience of gender-based violence, which left her economically insecure. Her story illustrates how ageism is a reality within the services and systems from which older survivors seek support.   

What we’ve heard from survivors adds to existing research about systemic ageism for older survivors. Research shows that older adults experience age discrimination from various services and systems, including landlords, healthcare providers, social services, and employers.[xiv] Examples include being denied rental housing because of a perceived incapacity to live independently[xv] or dismissing signs of abuse and trauma as aging.[xvi]  Systemic ageism also appears as a lack of age-inclusive services across sectors, leaving many services unable to respond to older survivors’ health and age-related needs. For example, research consistently highlights the lack of appropriate and affordable housing options for older survivors[xvii], the inability of domestic violence services to provide health and medical care[xviii], and a lack of age-inclusive outreach materials and programs.[xix]

Gender inequality across the lifespan

The survivors we spoke with also shared some of the many ways gender inequality specifically impacted their experiences of violence and prevented them from seeking help. For instance, gender norms about women as caregivers persisted even at later life stages. Some participants shared how they perceived it more difficult to leave or change an abusive relationship because it would be disruptive to their older children. As stated by one participant:

“Personally, I think it’s more difficult being a senior and having to go through it because I feel that adjusting at this stage of my life is very difficult. In my case, I don’t feel as if it’s adjusting just for myself but adjusting for my family unit. So, I have adult children and they too have to adjust. So, it makes it very difficult, and it’s also hard because you’re almost putting the burden on them, you know, because they feel that they need to care for you.”

In the violence against older women literature, studies have shown that some older survivors have a sense of caregiving obligation to their intimate partner, despite the abuse, and may believe that the perpetrator is better off in their care rather than in an institutional setting, like mental health and addictions systems.[xx]

Gendered experiences of economic insecurity also significantly impinge older survivors’ experiences. For instance, older women in Canada are more likely to be living in poverty due to the gender wage gap and gender pension gap. According to Ontario’s Pay Equity Office, Canadian women only make 82 cents in retirement income compared to Canadian men.[xxi] Additionally, the gender wage gap of Canadian women aged 65 and older is 3.9% higher than those aged 35-44.[xxii]

AGES project participants shared how intimate partner violence reduced their economic security over the long term as an outcome of economic abuse and decreased financial independence. According to one participant:

“I also think we were financially dependent on our husbands, a lot of us. I had a part-time job throughout my marriage, but I never had a career. So, I think that makes it harder because you’re financially dependent on your husband.”

It is particularly telling that many services lacked the capacity to improve the financial security of older survivors. One participant shared how difficult it was to get support for the financial abuse she was experiencing:

“There isn’t a single place where you can go to get help for financial abuse. When you tell them, the [service providers] are like “why don’t you have the money?” Well, he’s the one not giving you money.”

It is a clear message from older survivors that improving their economic security was front of mind. Unfortunately, experiences of gender inequality and gender-based violence during their lifespan limits their capacity to build that economic and financial security. It is equally unfortunate that many services are not currently addressing this significant gap.   

How to better support older women experiencing violence?

Services and practitioners can better support older women experiencing violence by being more responsive to older survivors’ intersecting challenges and needs. Unfortunately, existing approaches to elder abuse lack a gendered analysis[xxiii], and responses to violence against women rarely incorporate attention to age and ageism.[xxiv]  Developing responsive and preventative violence against older women and elder abuse strategies and programs must be centered on the experiences, needs, and perspectives of older women survivors of violence.

Our recommendations for creating an inclusive and responsive service system for older women experiencing violence include the following:  

Supporting older women’s leadership

Social and community services need to intentionally empower and engage older women to counter the impacts of ageism. This means engaging older survivors in designing and evaluating programs and services. Intergenerational and peer support opportunities also help older survivors to form social bonds with others experiencing similar situations.

Improving collaboration and accessibility

Services and systems need to be age-inclusive and accessible. This means collaboration and coordination across social and community agencies that work with older women who are survivors, such as health and mental health professionals, gender-based violence services, and senior services or elder abuse agencies. Cross-sectoral collaboration maximizes resources and strengthens programs so that older survivors have wrap-around support for age and trauma-related needs.

Community agencies also need to be more proactive in their outreach strategies and go to where older survivors are, such as senior programs, faith organizations, doctor’s offices, or grocery stores. 

Training and education

Preventing and responding to violence against older women requires sustained public education and training. WomanACT has launched two e-learning micro-lessons to raise awareness and build professional capacity to identify and respond to violence against older women. For more information, check out https://womanact.thinkific.com/.

For more information on violence against older women

Chellapermal, P. (2021). Economic abuse among senior immigrant women. Woman Abuse Council of Toronto. https://womanact.ca/publications/economic-abuse-among-senior-immigrant-women-literature-and-research-report/

The Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses. (2023). Aging without violence. https://www.oaith.ca/oaith-work/aging-without-violence/i-provide-professional-support/vaow-handouts-and-tools.html

Woman Abuse Council of Toronto (2023). Violence against older women infographics. https://womanact.ca/our-work/publications/?issue=54&type=

[i] Conroy, S. & Sutton, D. (2022). Violence against Seniors and their Perceptions of Safety in Canada. Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2022001/article/00011-eng.htm 

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Hancock, H. (2022). Taking Count & Taking Action: 2020-2021 Femicide in Ontario Report. Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses. https://www.oaith.ca/assets/library/Taking-Count-And-Taking-Action-2020-2021-Femicide-In-Ontario-Report.pdf

[iv] Conroy, S. & Sutton, D. (2022). Violence against Seniors and their Perceptions of Safety in  

Canada. Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2022001/article/00011-eng.htm 

[v] Walsh, C.A., Lohfeld, L., Ploeg, J. & Lai, D.W.L. (2007). Violence Across the Lifespan: Interconnections Among Forms of Abuse as Described by Marginalized Canadian Elders and their Care-givers. British Journal of Social Work, 37(3), 491-412. https://doi.org/10.1093/bjsw/bcm022.


[vii] Latzman, N.E., D’Inverno, A.S., Niolon, P.H. & Reidy, D.E. (2018). Gender Inequality and Gender Based Violence: Extensions to Adolescent Dating Violence. In D.A. Wolfe & J.R. Temple (Eds.), Adolescent Dating Violence: Theory, research, and prevention, (pp.283-314). Elsevier.

[viii] European Institute for Gender Equality. (20203). Gender Inequality. https://eige.europa.eu/publications-resources/thesaurus/terms/1329?language_content_entity=en

[ix] Canadian Centre for Elder Law. (2017). We are Not All the Same: Key law, policy and practice strategies for improving the lives of older women in the lower mainland. https://www.bcli.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/OlderWomenDialogueReportMarch_2017Web.pdf

[x] Ontario Human Rights Commission. (2001). Time for Action: Advancing human rights for 

older Ontarians. https://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/time-action-advancing-human-rights-older-ontarians

[xi] Fisher, B.S., Regan, S.L., & Zink, T. (2011). Abuses Against Older Women: Prevalence and health effects. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 26(2), 254-268. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260510362877 

[xii] Bows, H. (2018). Sexual Violence Against Older People: A Review of the Empirical Literature. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 19(5), 567–583. https://doi.org/10.1177/1524838016683455 

[xiii] Walsh, C.A., Ploeg, J., Lohfeld, L., Lai, D. (2007) Violence across the Lifespan:  Interconnections among forms of abuse as described by marginalized Canadian elders and their care-givers. The British Journal of Social Work, 37(3), 491-412. https://doi.org/10.1093/bjsw/bcm022

[xiv] Sinha, S.K., Griffin, B., Ringer, T., Reppas-Rindlisbacher, C., Stewart, E., Wong, I., Callan, S., Anderson, G. (2016). An Evidence-Informed National Seniors Strategy for Canada – 2nd edition. Toronto, ON: Alliance for a National Seniors Strategy.

[xv] Canadian Centre for Elder Law. (2017). We are Not All the Same: Key law, policy and practice strategies for improving the lives of older women in the lower mainland. https://www.bcli.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/OlderWomenDialogueReportMarch_2017Web.pdf 

[xvi] Breckman, R., Levin, M., Mantrone, L., & Solomon, J. (2020). The Things They Carry: 

Advancing trauma-informed responses to elder abuse. NYC Elder Abuse Center. https://eapon.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/TheThingsTheyCarry-JAN2020.pdf

[xvii] Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses. (2019). Final Report: Elder abuse 

network community consultations. https://www.oaith.ca/assets/files/assets/AWV%20EAN%20Community%20Consultations%20Report-%20June%202019-%20English%20FINAL%20(2).docx 

[xviii] Atira Women’s Resource Society. (2015) Promising Practices Across Canada for Housing 

Women who are Older and Fleeing Abuse. https://atira.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/Promising-Practices-for-Housing-Women-who-are-Older.pdf

[xix] Beaulaurier, R.L., Seff, L.R., & Newman, F.L. (2008). Barriers to Help-Seeking for Older 

Women who Experience IPV: A descriptive model. Journal of Women & Aging, 20 (3-4), 231-248. https://doi.org/10.1080/08952840801984543

[xx] Beaulaurier, R.L., Seff, L.R., & Newman, F.L. (2008). Barriers to Help-Seeking for Older Women who Experience IPV: A descriptive model. Journal of Women & Aging, 20 (3-4), 231-248. https://doi.org/10.1080/08952840801984543 

[xxi] Ontario Pay Equity Office. (2023). Gender Pension Gap. https://payequity.gov.on.ca/gender-pension-gap/

[xxii] Moyser, M. (2019, August 30). Measuring and Analyzing the Gender Pay Gap: A Conceptual and Methodological Overview. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/45-20-0002/452000022019001-eng.htm ​

[xxiii] Weeks, L., Dupuis-Blanchard, S., Arseneault, R., MacQuarrie, C., Gagnon, D., & LeBlanc, G.M.  (2018). Exploring Gender and Elder Abuse from the Perspective of Professionals. Journal of Elder Abuse & Neglect, 30(2), 127-143. https://doi.org/10.1080/08946566.2017.1388756  

[xxiv] Edwards, Peggy. (2009). Elder Abuse in Canada: Gender-based analysis. Division of Aging and Seniors, Public Health Agency of Canada. https://www.vawlearningnetwork.ca/webinars/recorded-webinars/2015/Elder_abuse_in_Canada-A_gender_based_analysis.pdf

Toronto, June 1, 2023 – YWCA Toronto, WomanACT, Social Planning Toronto, and City for All have joined forces with more than 45 community organizations to launch the Show Up for a Better Toronto – #ShowUpTO campaign. This initiative aims to rally Torontonians to show up for a better Toronto and urge mayoral candidates to take decisive action in addressing the escalating poverty and inequality afflicting the city.

Toronto is currently grappling with a housing crisis, the soaring cost of living, and an alarming rise in violence. These issues disproportionately affect women, Black, Indigenous, and racialized communities, newcomers, seniors, youth, gender diverse individuals, people with disabilities, and those on fixed incomes. The #ShowUpTO campaign seeks to shed light on the urgent need for change and demand that mayoral candidates prioritize the pressing concerns facing its residents.

A better Toronto is possible. This election offers an opportunity to shape the city’s direction for the next three years.

Toronto needs a mayor who will actively engage with and address the needs of its diverse communities, focusing on affordability, safety, and systemic equity across racial, gender, and neighbourhood lines. The campaign calls on all candidates to prioritize gender and racial equity and to invest in poverty and violence reduction.

The #ShowUpTO campaign urges mayoral candidates to show up by:

To learn more about the #ShowUpTO campaign and take the pledge to show up for a better Toronto on June 26, visit www.ShowUpTO.ca.

Sami Pritchard, YWCA Toronto, spritchard@ywcatoronto.org
Devika Parsaud, WomanACT, dparsaud@womanact.ca
Melissa Wong, Social Planning Toronto, mwong@socialplanningtoronto.org

This blog originally appeared on Homeless Hub.

Survivors of gender-based violence can experience homelessness due to lack of access to safe and secure housing. They may be unable to access the local housing market for various reasons, such as the stigma associated with gender-based violence, or because they cannot afford rent. Due to these barriers, survivors are likely to go  to an emergency shelter (35%) or stay with family (22%) or friends (18%) as their initial housing option. In some cases, they may live in cars or other temporary arrangements.  

This type of homelessness is often overlooked and therefore “hidden” in official government statistics and research, making it more difficult to accurately measure and address the issue. The ‘invisibility’ of these experiences of homelessness means that the extent of the problem is often underestimated, and the necessary support and resources are not provided to those affected.  

WomanACT’s Successful Tenancies research worked with survivors to understand their experiences navigating the private rental market in Toronto.

Case study: Sara 

Sara’s temporary housing journey started when she decided she would not put up with the recurring violence from her husband and decided to leave her home.  

Like many women in this situation, she called for help from her family and sought refuge at her brother’s house despite years of estrangement. Although her brother was willing to provide her with a safe haven, staying with him was not the same as returning home. The tension between them was palpable, and it was difficult for her to feel at peace in such an unfamiliar and awkward atmosphere.

“I am a burden. I am imposing on my brother’s life and causing his inconvenience and stress.  He is being put in the middle of my family drama. I have imposed on him financially. He may have some resentment towards me, but he hasn’t kicked me out yet.”

Her words highlight a tension between gratitude for housing and frustration with living in inadequate circumstances​. In this case, her temporary housing led to stress, fear, physical discomfort, and frustration.

“I must follow my brother’s rules and expectations in his home. I feel lost and have no foundation to stand on.  I don’t know what will happen in the future.  I have no car, so I need to ask for rides everywhere. I feel lonely and insecure.”

WomanACT’s research reveals that like Sara, many women in temporary housing struggle with these conflicting emotions. When asked about how they felt about temporary housing, some of the research participants shared that they felt “hopeless”, “anxious”, “overwhelmed” and “uncomfortable”. While others expressed more positive feelings such as “thoughtful”, “grateful” and “fortunate”. For many women, temporary housing is only a short-term solution to a long-term problem. It can also be a source of stress and insecurity, as women struggle to make sense of their new environment and adjust to a new lifestyle.   

All of the survivors who participated in the research had at least one issue regarding the safety, privacy, or the conditions of the house where they were temporarily residing. Some of them did not have access to a private room or a bathroom. Others had to live in an isolated or remote area without any work opportunities or with scarce transportation facilities and limited access to services.  

The lack of a safe and private space to call home can prevent individuals from feeling a sense of belonging or feeling connected to their community, which is an essential part of having a home. The research illustrates that having a home is about more than just having a physical space to live in, but about having access to resources, opportunities, and a sense of safety and security within one’s environment. 

Barriers to Stability 

Sara’s experience also highlights how many women in temporary housing are working on becoming more resilient and trying to stabilize themselves financially. However, there are many obstacles that they must overcome in order to achieve these things.  

“Challenge number one is finding proper housing without having issues with landlords. They ask me who my last reference was, and for credit checks. Challenge number two is having a proper space for me to make phone calls for jobs.”

Nonetheless she does not give in. She tries to re-build her life by developing a community.

“I found a few people that walk daily in my area and I will accompany them a few days a week. I have been very secluded and to myself. I have not introduced myself to new people and felt lonely. Now that I have been attending some women’s groups online, they encouraged me to meet some new people and create a support group for myself in my area.” 

Sara’s experience is an example of how homelessness is broader than male-centric definitions like sleeping rough or living in shelters. Sara defines homelessness as “when you don’t have a place you go to everyday where you are safe, and when you cannot be independent to take care of yourself.” 

Her hopes for the future provide us with an answer to the question of what makes a place a “home’:

“I hope to live one day in a place that feels like ‘home’ and I’m happy, safe, secure, proud, grateful and not afraid.”

Next Steps: Working to Expand Housing Options 

Using this knowledge, Successful Tenancies plans to increase the capacity of housing providers to better meet the needs of survivors of gender-based violence, through training, building networks and partnerships.  

WomanACT is conducting research to better understand the policies, programs, and practices that support women to remain in their own home when leaving a violent relationship. We engage survivors and stakeholders to work together, develop policy recommendations and advocate for system change.