Founding Statement of the Hothouse Squat’s Women’s Wing

Homeless and low-income women have established a wing in the Hothouse Squat as a space for women’s community, solidarity, and collective struggle against violence and patriarchal power and to end gender violence that has increased during the COVID-19 crisis.

We acknowledge that the Women’s Wing of the Hothouse Squat is on the unceded and occupied territory of the Kwantlen, Katzie, Qayqat, and Kwikwetlem nations.

Today we worked with poor men in our communities to open the Hothouse Squat as a home safer from the danger of infection and death by COVID-19. We established the “Women’s Wing” of the squat as a place where women, trans, and gender non-conforming people can be safer from patriarchal domination and violence. Our fight for homes safe from this global pandemic is linked to our fight for homes safe from gendered violence. Like everything else in our lives, COVID-19 is gendered.

COVID-19 has proven particularly dangerous for women, children, and trans people. For many poor Indigenous and working class women, trans, and two-spirit people, our choice is between isolating at home with our abusers or moving out into the streets or shelters where we risk contracting COVID-19, which could mean our deaths.

Poor Indigenous women and two-spirit people and poor working class women and trans people have more to fear than COVID-19. Battered Women’s Support Services, an anti-violence organization in Vancouver, said this week that calls to their crisis line have gone up over 100% since British Columbia’s COVID-19 self-isolating measures began.

In Canada, women and trans people make up well over 55% of low-paid, service sector jobs. We are often part-time or unemployed workers, who rarely make enough money to live on our own. For those of us who can’t afford to rent on our own, we are forced to make an impossible decision: either stay with our abusive friends and partners or hedge our bets against the virus in overcrowded women’s shelters, if they exist or are still open in our towns or cities.

As poor Indigenous and working class women, we are taking a stand within our communities against men’s emotional and sexual demands and their threats of physical violence. But we do not look to the police or social workers to arrest our boyfriends or ban them from visiting us in our supportive housing buildings. We know it is not poor Indigenous and working class men who drive the BMWs around low-income neighborhoods at night looking to “let off steam.” We know the men who pay us low-wages to clean their apartments or make them food are not part of our communities.

The Women’s Wing of the Hothouse Squat is a place where we are free from the condescending and controlling social workers who steal our kids, the cops that harass, assault, and arrest us in the name of protecting us, and from the demands and violence from men in our communities. In the Women’s Wing of the Hothouse Squat we can strategize how to liberate ourselves from all forms of gendered oppression and violence.

Liberation will not look the same for Indigenous and working class women because the origin and type of violence we each face is different. Violence against Indigenous women is colonial; its aim is to exterminate Indigenous peoples as a whole. Violence against working class women is patriarchal; its purpose is to discipline women to labour in the service of men. The Women’s Wing of the Hothouse Squat is a space for the liberation of Indigenous women from colonial violence and of working class women from patriarchal violence. The Women’s Wing overlaps with the Indigenous Warrior Women council to make the space to do this work, and we support racialized working class women’s struggles against white hegemony and and trans people’s struggles against cis supremacy, including in women’s spaces.

We believe that if the City of Surrey or the RCMP try to displace low-income women, trans people, and anyone fleeing violence and seeking safety from COVID-19 from the Hothouse Squat, they will be forcing us into positions where we will face the danger of gender violence, and greater risk of contracting COVID-19. The Hothouse Squat makes us safer than the street and modular housing where we are exposed to both COVID-19 and male violence, and women’s shelters where it is impossible to follow proper health precautions.

The Women’s Wing has added a gender lens to the Hothouse Squat demands. When we call for homes now to take our communities out of harm’s way of COVID-19, we added that vacant hotels opened for unhoused and underhoused people must also be open to all women and children fleeing elevated violence in homes on lockdown. When we say stop policing the crisis, we say that the state must stop the criminalization not only of poverty but also of women, trans, and gay and queer men sex workers, who may not be poor in the sense that our communities are poor, but whose gender and sexualities are criminalized. We fight against the danger that government organs of the public health crisis criminalize the gender and sexualities of sex workers. And we have added to the demands for health care for all, that women need, now as ever, feminine hygiene products, pregnancy tests and birth control, diapers and baby wipes, and Hormone Replacement Therapy medications through pharmacies, without prescriptions and without cost.

The Women’s Wing is part of making a call for a #Squat2Survive movement in every community. We hope the Women’s Wing will empower others who are vulnerable to gender violence to carve out autonomous spaces where we are safer, and where we can build a new, militant segment of the anti-colonial and anti-capitalist movement that is fundamentally anti-patriarchal and against colonial gendered violence.