Women constitute one of the groups worst affected by homelessness. While the phenomenon of homelessness violates the most basic of human rights for all populations, women without housing and living on the streets suffer the most severe kinds of abuse and violence. State response to the needs of homeless women is grossly inadequate and the majority of homeless women are left to fend for themselves.
The interlinkage between violence against women and women’s right to adequate housing is well established around the world. Lack of adequate housing can make women more vulnerable to various forms of violence and, conversely, violence against women can lead to the violation of women’s rights to adequate housing. The Special Rapporteurs on adequate housing have presented a series of reports on women and housing to the UN Commission on Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council. The reports highlighted that the 5 widespread prevalence of gender-based violence is a central thread in the fabric of human rights violations faced by women, including in violations of the right to adequate housing and land. Women also suffer more from forced evictions and homelessness as both situations subject them to greater violence as well as violation of personal dignity and health. They also asserted that persistent poverty, where women and others are forced to live in inadequate and insecure housing and living conditions, also exposes women to forms of gender-based violence, and arguably is itself a form of violence.
This paper attempts to highlight the causes and characteristics of homelessness and the nature of violence faced by homeless women, and makes recommendations to address the crisis at various levels. While the problems faced by homeless women living on the streets are ubiquitous across the country, the paper uses empirical data and case studies from Delhi and Bangalore. It is hoped that this paper will draw attention to the plight of one of our society’s most marginalised constituencies and urge the government to take urgent action to protect their human rights and prevent their further abuse and marginalisation.