Women’s Butterfly Project: empowering mature women to maintain secure housing using high tech and high touch

Women’s Butterfly Project: empowering mature women to maintain secure housing

Project dates: 01/02/2020 - Ongoing

This project designed by QUT and Griffith University aims to empower mature women (aged 55+) to maintain secure housing when experiencing a change of circumstance, by equipping non-traditional early responders (a professional source of support who is not directly associated with homeless services) for conversations and support with mature women. We aim to combine high touch approaches (conversations) with high tech flexibility (digital support) through a digital hub for women and a toolkit for early responders. This project has involved co-design with mature women with lived experience of homelessness and expert proxies who work with women who have experienced homelessness. Of note is the strengths-based approach to women experiencing vulnerability which leverages and empowers, with solutions designed WITH them not FOR them. Visit the Women’s Butterfly Portal HERE.

Why is this important?

In Queensland, 282,601 women aged 55-64 are homeless (ABS, 2018). Of these women only 12,000 sought assistance from homelessness services in 2016 – while this represents a 52% increase since 2011 (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2016), this still means that up to 95% of women are not necessarily accessing adequate support before reaching their next tenancy.

Mature women tend to have lower savings for later life, be more likely to not have paid employment and are more likely to have experienced domestic and family violence than men the same age (Mission Australia, 2017). Indeed, the current superannuation and gender pay gap stands at 47% (The Senate Economics References Committee, 2016), creating a potential ‘ticking time bomb’ for some women who may be relying on tenuous employment or a spouse. If crisis occurs, these women are not always able to be placed within safe and appropriate tenancy – often finding themselves in sharehouses or shelters where they may not feel safe, or choosing to seek out their own tenancy via sleeping in their vehicles or on a friends couch. With many of these women having been caregivers throughout their lives, they can be unfamiliar with the notion of asking for care for themselves. Indeed, women in the primary prevention phase may not be aware of the risks to look out for.

What we aim to do

This project is about preventing homelessness for mature women before it begins. This aim is to intervene prior to the crisis occurring. According to the health continuum of prevention, three stages of harm prevention exist: primary (prevent the harm occurring), secondary (attempt to stop existing harm early), and tertiary (attempt to reduce the impact of established harm). While there are some excellent resources available, these resources tend to focus on women in the secondary or tertiary points of intervention (at the ‘tipping point’ or already in crisis, respectively). Other resources such as helplines or access to emergency housing are also targeted to women already experiencing a crisis. We aim to help women at the primary stage.

The goal is to utilise a high tech/high touch toolkit that will enable early responders to have conversations with pre-crisis (primary prevention-stage) women to help them access the support needed.

The Women’s Butterfly Project

Visit the Women’s Butterfly Portal HERE.

Empowering mature women experiencing a change of circumstances affecting their income, relationships and career.

At the Women’s Butterfly Project we believe that change begins with a single leap of faith. Inspired by this vision, we were driven to develop a digital hub to help mature women break free from their cocoons and take flight. So whether they are seeking a new direction, looking for tools to be better equipped for life’s challenges, or maybe just want to have a little more fun, the first step in their evolution starts here. The Butterfly as a symbol reflects many aspects of our lives. We feel them in our stomach when we are nervous, we develop cocoons around ourselves at different life stages and sometimes we need to transcend our past life and be something different. Butterflies begin as simple caterpillars but metamorphosise into creatures of incredible beauty and complexity. We think this represents mature women in many ways. We are also told that with a single flap of their wings the course of the future itself can be changed.

The initial version of the digital hub has an easy to navigate user-interface with a quiz for women to identify which butterfly represents their current circumstance. After completing the quiz, women land on a curated page which has wellbeing tools based on their quiz profile.

Women’s Butterfly Project Design Principles

The Women’s Butterfly Project draws on expertise from the fields of social marketing, behavioural economics, justice, design and information systems to develop size design principles that underpin the project:

  • Change the environment not the women: Contemporary conceptualisations of people experiencing vulnerability now position vulnerability as the result of external factors where vulnerability is a state not a trait. This reframes the conversation from ‘fixing’ people to ‘fixing’ situations.
  • Transform lives through empowerment and optimism: Women are motivated to participate in WBP through a desire to create a positive future for themselves. Language helps support the idea that even though life may be changing, women are not trapped or powerless. Building on the strengths women have is key rather than focusing on deficits.
  • Holistic design: Every facet of the WBP will reflect the complexity of the world in which mature women live. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach, and no ‘solution’ to these challenging issues; design is both personalised and comprehensive.
  • One step away from the future: In stressful situations, simplicity and ease are key.  The digital hub and toolkit will be easy to use for both early responders and women experiencing a change of circumstance. The number of steps needed to gain benefits will be minimal.
  • Best fit for you: The digital hub and toolkit will fit into current lifestyle of women and current work process for early respondents. This means integrative not disruptive to be respectful of needs and to reduce barriers for participating.
  • Accessible and trauma-informed : The digital hub is free and aims to be inclusive. The language and approach is sensitive to any trauma that may have been experienced by the women.


For more information about this project please email best@qut.edu.au

Funding / Grants

  • Dignity First Fund 2019, Department of Housing and Public Works (2019 - 2020)

Chief Investigators

Other Team Members

  • Natalie Bowring
  • Tim Carden
  • Harrison Cook
  • Emily King


Other Partners


Rich Media

  • “Preventing homelessness for mature women with QUT BEST practice” – QUT Business School News [Read Article]
  • “Student project spurs ‘toolkit’ to prevent mature women becoming homeless” – Brisbane Times [Read Article] & Sydney Morning Herald [Read Article]
  • For a summarised version of the project, check out our Flyer – All about WBP

A Toolkit for Early Responders

Women experiencing a change of circumstances (relationship, job or income) come in contact with organisations such as banks, real estates agents, lawyers and councils. These organisations are early touchpoints in women’s journey to secure housing however preventing homelessness is not the core business of these organisations. We call these organisations early responders. When early responders are part of the prevention process, women obtain support well before a problem arises, that’s why we believe making things easy for early responders to be involved is so critical.

We have developed a toolkit for early responders who are interested in participating in the Women’s Butterfly Project. This toolkit is a collection of the materials and resources necessary for early responders to participate in this prevention project. The toolkit is an integrated resource with project-specific information related to the Women’s Butterfly Project’s feasibility and viability, alongside practical resources to aid your involvement in empowering mature women in Australia to maintain secure housing.

Access the toolkit here