International Women’s Day celebrates the achievements of women around the world, in advancing women’s rights and also their achievements more broadly across all spheres.

Homelessness in the UK is undoubtedly a disproportionately male issue. Yet it is important to remember the specific and additional vulnerabilities facing homeless women, or women at risk of homelessness. Of course, many women in the UK experience homelessness each year, but it’s hard to say how many as most counts don’t pay attention to gender.

In a number of ways, this highlights the problem; a desire to make homelessness services gender neutral at a compromise of the best support for either gender. In supporting women experiencing homelessness in particular there is still a long way to go, with services moslty built with men in mind, as the larger proportionate service users.  

From a government point of view, even recent policies have made matters harder for women facing the prospect of homelessness. Universal Credit, for example, has complicated women’s ability to leave dangerous and abusive households as if both are unemployed, their claim is processed as a couple. Universal Credit is paid by default into one bank account. If claiming joint Universal Credit with an abusive partner, the primary options available to a woman escaping that household are either notifying the DWP and starting a new six week claim, or applying for the current payment to be split between the two household members, but this must be done with both claimants presenting together.

What is more, when women do leave such households, or else become homeless for other reasons, options available to them are limited given that women often report feeling uncomfortable staying in mixed homeless hostels, feeling vulnerable and insecure. Even with the best intentions and excellent practices in place, emergency shelters may still be unable to alter this understandable perception of discomfort for women facing a night in an otherwise all male shelter.

Yet women are also disproportionally vulnerable sleeping rough – about 15% more women than men are report experiencing violence when trying to sleep in public spaces. This leads women off the streets, perhaps onto public transport, friend’s sofas, or any number of more compromising situations. Consequently, the number of women experiencing homeless is impossible to monitor accurately, as the extent to which they are hidden homeless could be vast.

Those services that do cater specifically to woman, such as all women refuges, suffer funding shortages because of the perception that homelessness is an almost exclusively male issue. In reality, around 12% of those experiencing homelessness are women, and, given their disproportionate likelihood to be amongst the hidden homelessness, this figure could be much higher. On International Women’s Day, when reflecting on all of the progress that has been made in supporting gender parity, we should recognise there is a case to be made for greater recognition of gender specific needs when it comes to homelessness, as part of progress going forward.