By Angela Marie MacDougall
Women with abusive partners will often face serious threats to their financial well-being and barriers to realizing their personal financial capability. Abusive partners use physical, sexual, emotional, and economic tactics in order to isolate, diminish, control, exploit, and terrorize their partners. For many women, these actions have extraordinarily devastating consequences, that can take years to overcome. Since April 2011, in a project called Economic Empowerment Strategies for Women: Recognizing and Addressing the Effects of Financial Abuse, Battered Women’s Support Services has been assessing the impact violence in relationships has on the financial lives of women while developing strategies which empower enabling women to make steps in their lives to take back their power as Sara Yasan highlighted in Recognizing, Understanding and Addressing Economic Abuse.
Economic abuse is defined as controlling a woman’s ability to acquire, use, and maintain economic resources. Economic abuse is as common in abusive relationships as physical, sexual and emotional abuse. During the research phase of BWSS Economic Empowerment Strategies for Women: Recognizing and Addressing the Effects of Financial Abuse, 100% of the participants reported experiencing emotional abuse by their partners, 75% had been physically assaulted, 80% had experienced sexual abuse by their partners and 100% had experienced economic abuse. Women also reported that their economic dependency, is also reinforced by societal and systemic gender discrimination that limits or denies women the opportunities to have access to and participate in the labour market and earn equal wages as male counterparts. And this society and systemic gender discrimination was layered with racial discrimination for Indigenous women Immigrant women and Women of Colour who combined formed 40% of the research participants.
When talking about economic abuse, what are we talking about? Tactics of Economic Abuse take many forms, including:
• Controlling paycheques and bank accounts
• Stealing from her
• Preventing the woman from accessing transportation
• Determining how money is spent
• Deciding where the woman will work
• Preventing the woman from working through isolation tactics
• Outright forbidding the woman to work
• Forcing the woman to work in family business with little or no pay
• Forcing the woman to become pregnant
• Preventing the woman from accessing child care
• Harassing the woman at her workplace to extent that the job is lost
• Controlling property decisions
• Destroying the woman’s credit rating by using credit cards, lines of credit, without permission or filing all financial contracts (lease, credit cards, utilities, etc.) in the woman’s name and failing to make payments on time or at all
• Forcing women to turn over government benefit payments including child tax benefits
• Using his income for his individual interests while her income is used to maintain the family collective interests
• “Giving” her all the “control” of the financial decision for the family then criticizing her decisions and/or having unrealistic understanding of what things cost
• Forbidding her to attend school or upgrading programs
Throughout 35 years of our work at Battered Women’s Support Services we have learned that women with economic skills and support are more likely to leave abusive relationships and sustain themselves and their families into the future. So we know that women require specific resources that can provide them with the knowledge and skills they need for economic empowerment. Therefore, we have created resources dedicated to economic stability challenges for women dealing with abusive relationships. These resources: 1. Economic Empowerment Strategies for Women: Recognizing and Addressing the Effects of Financial Abuse 2. Advancing Women’s Awareness Regarding Employment 3. Women Artisans 4. My Sister’s Journey and 5. Social Enterprise are interconnected with counselling and legal advocacy programs forming a strong matrix of support building capacity through each woman’s journey of empowerment.
Here’s a breakdown on the resources we have created dedicated to addressing women’s economic stability challenges:
Economic Empowerment Strategies for Women: Recognizing and Addressing the Effects of Financial Abuse
Our objective through this initiative is to equip women survivors of violence, advocates, other frontline workers, policy analysts and other systems, institutions and government entities with strong analysis, practical resources, and information grounded in the lived experiences of women; through gaining these knowledge and skills these helpers are better able to enhance women’s ability to engage in all levels of society; and, they are more capable of assisting women who are living with violence and abuse in achieving financial safety.
We have created self-help modules and handouts designed to support women with assessing and redressing the impact of economic abuse.
AWARE is a specialized employment program for women survivors of violence and/or abuse who are unemployed or want to increase their employability. It’s for the woman desiring to enhance her economic awareness, education, self-confidence and independence as she discovers her career/job goals and opportunities. AWARE is one of the many ways that Battered Women’s Support Services works to eliminate all forms of violence and abuse against girls and women.
Our specialized employment program includes:
• Recognizing, Understanding and Overcoming the Impact of Abuse
• Workshops related to personal development and employment related skills
• Career Exploration including informational interviews, job search skills, volunteer work experience
• Information and referrals to educational and training.
In this program, we provide comprehensive support for women, both individually and within a group setting. We recognize and address:
• Unique barriers facing women
• Life/Career options that empower women
• Individual employment needs
• Needs of women survivors of violence and/or abuse
• Encouraging women build a strong personal foundation
• The necessity of providing services in an holistic way
• The need to provide education, volunteer opportunities/placement information, and career exploration
• To prepare for work in a balanced way
Women Artisans Program at My Sister’s Closet
Battered Women’s Support Services supports local women artisans to do what they love, while generating revenue that helps support them and their families. This contributes to their financial independence and growth of artistic expression. There is no shortage of creative and talented women affiliated with us and since 2010 we have supported Women Artisans market their handmade products through our boutique My Sister’s Closet located at 1092 Seymour Street, in Vancouver, BC. .
Violence and abuse are present in the lives of many women and the struggle for healing, empowerment and self-sufficiency involves many steps. Our Women Artisan Program invites jewelers, potters, clothing designers who create wearable art to participate in enterprise as part of an empowerment process.
My Sister’s Journey
A vital part of work with women is to support women’s entry or re-entry into the workforce in a way that is meaningful, significant and respectful of each woman’s experience. My Sister’s Journey is a work placement program where women gain relevant skills in the retail, administration, merchandising, team work, organizational, time management and community engagement.
Since, 1992, Battered Women’s Support Services has participated in social enterprise. Battered Women’s Support Services is currently working in collaboration and developing initiatives where we focus on the challenges experienced by women to enter and remain in the labour market to ensure women’s economic development potential that is grounded in Indigenous Women’s leadership, Migrant, Refugee and Immigrant women’s experiences and the empowerment of women who are survivors of violence and other forms of oppression. Our initiatives in development intend to heighten awareness and support women’s economic development as a realistic and viable.
We are Stronger Together
A complex combination of relational, emotional, cultural, religious, familial and economic factors contribute to women taking efforts to leave abusive relationships.
Along with fear and the children, women report that “having a sense financial security” is key to whether she would seek safety and stay free from her abusive partner. The path to safety and security is often profoundly challenging. T
he struggles of women survivors of violence in their relationships to achieve economic empowerment register in every aspect of our community as women navigate poverty, precarious housing or homelessness. And through accessing support services women do seek safety and are leaving abusive relationships now more than any other time in our recorded her story.
And we know that leaving is not the end of the story as women are often more at risk for lethal violence after leaving an abusive relationship so we work to strengthen the matrix of support for women which includes advocacy ensuring law enforcement follow up when women report when abusive partners breach restraining orders, due to the absence of legal aid we support women to self represent in while advocating for women’s rights through family law proceedings and more.
The struggle is profound and every day women accessing Battered Women’s Support Services programs take up the challenge and we are there to meet women where they’re at.
Your support has made it possible for us to respond to over 10,400 requests in 2013 as more women seek safety.
Read more about What is Economic Abuse?
BWSS’ Economic Empowerment Strategies for Women is funded by: