Mainstreaming the marginalised
How standpoint feminist theory can help housing providers achieve greater equality, diversity and inclusion in their policies and practices
Policy and Research Officer, Campbell Tickell
Issue 65 | April 2023
Marginalised groups in England continue to be disproportionately affected by homelessness and poor-quality social housing.
- 13% of mixed white and Black Caribbean households live with damp compared to just 3% of white British households;
- 17.7% of non-white households live in fuel poverty;
- 28% of LGBTQ youth reported experiencing homelessness or housing instability at some point in their lives.
Issues of housing inequality have been brought to the fore following the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak in Rochdale and the sector now faces increased pressure to enact thoroughgoing change, but where can it look for inspiration?
Standpoint feminism: insights for EDI
Standpoint feminism offers key insight and serves as a stark reminder of how important it is to strive for greater equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the housing sector to bring about more just and ethical housing policy practices.
Feminist standpoint theory considers how different gendered experiences of the world create different ‘perspectival’ understandings of reality. Crucially, standpoint feminism looks beyond the experiences of women and recognises how intersectional experiences of gender, race, social class, culture and economic status (to name a few) establish unique perspectival knowledge bases.
Each type of perspectival knowledge is seen to offer important insights for creating more just political practices. In particular, the perspectives of the marginalised are viewed as important, not because they carry a higher intrinsic value than mainstream perspectives, but because they are better positioned to expose injustices.
Example: mothering practice and ethics in social housing
To illustrate how this works and indeed how it applies to social housing practice, I will use the example of typical feminine experiences of motherhood.
Intrinsic to mothering is a commitment to the care and nurturing of children and a sense that one’s own wellbeing is connected to that of one’s child. As per standpoint theory, this experience furnishes mothers with a mode of thinking, which centres upon an ethical commitment to the general safety and wellbeing of others (not just one’s own child), and an empathy towards their needs.
When applied to decision-making in the housing sector, the ethical perspectives of ‘maternal thinking’ could work to further focus housing policy on the concerns, fears, and agendas of disadvantaged groups. Gender mainstreaming is therefore arguably key in enabling more inclusive dialogue between administrators and service users that could enhance community-led practices, tenant engagement and decision-makers’ understandings of the needs of those they aim to help.
Of course, there are already a significant number of women and mothers working in and across the sector who have undoubtedly made a meaningful contribution by bringing maternalistic insight to housing policy – and indeed women who have drawn from different, non-mothering experiences have helped to deliver results too.
Looking beyond gender mainstreaming – wider EDI
What the sector arguably still lacks however, is sufficient EDI for other marginalised groups, in particular relating to race, sexuality, and trans and non-binary genders. According to standpoint feminism, if the sector is to move forward with addressing the housing inequality that continues to so badly affect these groups, then securing representation of their perspectives in decision-making and policy practice is certainly key.
The sector must strive to mainstream marginalised perspectives in a meaningful way. Organisations must look inwards and ask themselves not just if they are inclusive of alternative standpoints, but rather what lessons in governance and ethical practice can be learned from these? They must question whether their organisational culture provides a space for effective listening practices and indeed for the progress that will result.
“Organisations must look inwards and ask themselves not just if they are inclusive of alternative standpoints, but rather what lessons in governance and ethical practice can be learned from these?”