Forced evictions throw millions of women into poverty and isolation

The warning came as the world celebrates International Women’s Day.

“Forced evictions have been recognised by the international community as a gross violation of human rights. Yet, what is less recognised is that forced evictions are not a gender-neutral phenomenon.”

“There are unique ways in which forced evictions combine with gender inequality and gender-based violence to produce specific crises for women in all parts of the world,” said Salih Booker, COHRE’s Executive Director.

COHRE’s extensive research on the impact of forced evictions on women began in 2002. The research has shown that forced evictions leave women poorer, more isolated and more vulnerable to violence than before.

“Sadly, we have learned that exposure to gender-based violence is a common occurrence within the context of forced eviction. Not only are women more likely to suffer violence during forced eviction, but research shows that they are also exposed to increased levels of violence within their own homes and communities once a forced eviction takes place,” said Mayra Gómez, COHRE’s Senior Expert on Women and Housing Rights.

Massive urban forced evictions affect millions of women and men each year, and it is these mass forced evictions that have, in recent years, gained the attention of the international community.

But COHRE explained that for women, forced evictions also can take place on a much smaller scale with devastating consequences.

“The forced eviction of individual women from their homes and lands – one woman at a time, relentless, and often invisible – receives far too little attention,” said Mayra Gómez.

For example, thousands of women are forcibly evicted from their marital homes every year upon the death of their spouse. These women experience property grabbing by in-laws in a practice commonly referred to as ‘disinheritance.’ COHRE believes that these and other instances of forced and arbitrary removal of women from their homes should be considered to be within the scope of a State’s obligations to protect people from forced eviction.

COHRE is currently appealing to the United Nations to develop gender-sensitive guidelines that would address the situation of women in cases of forced eviction. Such guidelines could clarify what governments are legally obliged to do under international human rights standards to protect women from forced eviction, and what they should do to ensure that evictions – where otherwise justifiable – do not have a negative impact on women.

COHRE has already begun to consult affected women and women’s rights groups around the world as to the possible future content of such guidelines.

“While there exist important international human rights standards prohibiting forced eviction, the development of gender-sensitive guidelines addressing the situation of women in cases of forced eviction is a necessary step forward,” said Salih Booker.