Thursday, October 11, 2007

Linking Domestic Violence and Economic Independence

By: Karuna Jaggar, Women's Initiative Director of Public Policy and Research


WStop_domestic_violence This Microcapital article about a microfinance project in South Africa underlines the links between poverty, domestic violence, and AIDS:
IMAGE provides women with short term business loans of up to USD 1300 operating on the presumption that an increase in earning power will encourage women to be more vocal at home, confronting unfaithful husbands about issues such as condom usage.
Domestic violence and Aids infection have long plagued the eight villages outside of Burgersfort, Limpopo Province, South Africa where IMAGE currently operates. According to Dr. Pronyk, “Of the approximately 400 women receiving loans, between 36 and 71 percent reported having been in a violent relationship.” Not unrelated is the HIV/ Aids infection rate, which identifies one out of every three adults in the region as HIV positive. Image findings report that most women in the region accept their husband’s extra- marital affairs as common practice. IMAGE claims most wives avoid confronting their spouses about such behavior, leaving their health at risk, as the male is typically the only wage earner and thus perceived as the unique authority in the household.
IMAGE believes the solution is to increase women’s authority at home by increasing their earning power outside of the home via a microfinance programme.
Although here in the US AIDS and reproductive control are not firmly linked to women's economic independence, the link between poverty, poor health, and risk of violence for women and children is well established. The Kaiser Foundation 2004 report shows that low-income women are twice as likely to report being in fair or poor health as higher income women. The American Cancer Society estimates that cancer survival rate of poor individuals is 10 to 15 percent lower that those of other Americans. And the US Department of Health and Human Services links poverty and issues related to violence as significant factors in women’s health.

At Women’s Initiative we see that self-employment is a powerful component of any multi-pronged strategy in the prevention of and recovery from domestic violence. Self-employment can increase a woman’s economic independence through increased earnings and greater economic control. In addition, owning a business and being one’s own boss allows domestic violence survivors -- many of whom have been controlled in virtually every area of their lives during the abuse -- to be in control of several important areas of their lives.

Nearly one-third of American women (31%) report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their adult lives. In addition to physical and sexual assault, many survivors face economic and other forms of abuse. Examples of economic abuse include controlling or even stealing money; fostering dependency; and making financial decisions without asking or telling the partner.
Many women taking our classes have told us of the impact of their lack of access to even small amounts of money: taking the bus to class was enormously problematic, let alone coming up with the $25 registration fee or finding childcare. The impacts of this epidemic are far-reaching, affecting each area of the survivors’ life and in turn that of her family and community

Based on these interviews, we believe that our program can help interrupt domestic violence through:
  1. the supportive group environment and training we give focuses on reducing isolation during and after the program: a common barrier for many of our ALAS clients, who are immigrants with limited or no English-language skills and little knowledge of resources available to them;

  2. financial literacy training, which is critical for women who have faced economic abuse which has limited their access to or knowledge of household finances;

  3. financial independence through business ownership which allows women to increase their income and gain control over earnings, thus expanding her options, including to escape domestic violence.
Our work clearly illustrates the linkages between a woman’s health and her economic independence. Through our multi-pronged business management program, Women’s Initiative empowers women to achieve economic self-sufficiency. Along the way, women build self-esteem, financial literacy, and strong networks of other supportive women. By providing culturally competent business management and personal empowerment training, Women’s Initiative helps prevent domestic violence before, during, and after abuse has occurred.

No comments: