In recent years, Gender-based violence has become a term that is quite prevalent in society. When the general public or the media address this concept, very specific imagery is evoked to depict the situation. These images are usually ones of wartime sexual abuse and domestic abuse. However when the technical definitions of this term are examined, it is evident that they are broad and meant to cover much more than just these instances. UNIFEM defines gender-based violence as ‘many types of harmful behavior directed at women and girls because of their sex’. While the World Health Organization’s definition is more expansive, it does little to narrow the scope. They describe it as an action that will cause, or is likely to cause, physical or psychological damage or suffering to women. It also includes threats, coercion and denial of freedom. In addition to meeting these criteria, the action must also be a result of unequal gender dynamics. One prevalent and destructive act that does not fit into the traditional ideal of GBV, but is encompassed within the broader definitions, is economic gender-based violence.
Economic gender-based violence is defined as an act where the abuser controls the victim’s economic resources and activities. The actions that fall under this can be divided into three distinct sub-categories. The first category covers actions that preclude victims from acquiring economic assets. This usually encompasses the abuser forbidding or interfering with the victim’s attempts to gain formal employment. It also includes maintaining all communal financial assets in the abuser’s name so the victim has no legal right to them. The second category contains actions that prevent the victim from using economic assets. This includes a myriad of activities, such as the abuser having the victim turn over any wages earned, maintaining control over how the money is spent, or putting the victim on a strict allowance. The final category includes actions that attempt to take advantage of the victim’s economic assets. These actions are usually a means of control. The abuser pressures the victim into paying all bills for communal expenses, or paying for the abuser’s personal expenses with the victim’s assets. Recognising and understanding these intricacies of economic gender-based violence is extremely important because of how prevalent this issue is.
The widespread nature of economic gender-based violence can clearly be seen with the analysis of some statistics. On average, women in developed countries complete 51% of the national work, in developing countries this figure rises to 55%. Despite this fact 70% of those below the poverty line are women. These seemingly incongruent figures are a display of the impact of economic gender-based violence. Despite women completing the majority of the work, they are the most affected by poverty due to their access to economic assets being obstructed. In a survey of Bangladeshi males, 66% stated that they believed the higher education of males should be prioritized over the higher education of females. These sentiments continue into employment. In a UNICEF poll of ten Middle Eastern states, 82% of the males questioned believed that the employment of men should be prioritized above women, especially in a tumultuous economic climate. Not allowing women to pursue education and limiting their access to formal employment pushes them into the informal work sector. In sub-Saharan Africa 84% of women work in this sector, suffering long hours, lack of job security, and a high risk of poverty. The other two types of economic gender-based violence – preventing women from using economic assets and abusers taking advantage of the victim’s economic assets—also have an effect on whether or not a woman is living in poverty. There is, however, a lack of statistical data on these areas because of a scarcity in research and the fact that data collection would be heavily reliant on self–reporting as these actions take place solely in the private sphere. Understanding economic gender-based violence and its global pervasiveness is important because of the wide reaching consequences of the abuse.
The consequences of economic gender-based violence are as wide ranging as the types of violence committed, and have effects at every social level. First there are individual consequences. The primary and most obvious consequence of gender-based violence is that, lacking access to education, formal employment and control of financial resources, it leads to a deepening of poverty. The second individual consequence is that economic gender-based violence can segue into other forms of GBV. The strain in interpersonal relationships caused by an atmosphere of concern over material security can lead to physical abuse. There are also societal consequences to economic GBV. As a result of the inequality and lack of employment opportunities, there has been a growth in commercial sex trade as victims attempt to use this income to break the cycle of poverty. Finally there are national effects. By restricting women’s access to the labor market, the productive workforce of the state is reduced. This negatively affects the productivity and national development of the state.
As a result of the multiple facets of gender-based violence, each presentation is quite unique, and this creates challenges to combating the issue. One way to begin addressing it would be to increase awareness of the issue, and to conduct more local, national, and international research on all types of economic GBV. With the increase in data produced by research, governments and non-governmental organizations can use such information to conduct constructive dialogues on how to create policies to begin correcting the social and institutional factors contributing to the prevalence of economic GBV. In addition to this, NGOs could use a human security approach, utilising a bottom-up model to empower women through education or microfinance programs.
Understanding, researching, educating, and addressing economic gender-based violence should be an imperative in today’s society. Left untreated, it is a cyclical phenomenon that will allow the gender gap to persist, disenfranchising women all around the globe. By addressing this issue, women will be on equal economic footing with men, giving them louder voices in the global arena to advocate for a freer and fairer society that does not discriminate based on gender.
Kevin Orsini is an intern in the Centre for Gender Rights at LCILP Global. He holds an MSc in Human Rights from the London School of Economics, and a BA from Canisius College in International Relations and History. His research interests include terrorism, gender-based violence in conflict, and the UN women, peace and security agenda.