Financial empowerment: Is it an effective step in eliminating violence against women?

Financial empowerment

Of the many pressing problems that societies have to deal with today, gender based violence seems to be the most formidable one. Most of the countries in the world, including the most developed nations, experience some or other form of this scourge.

In India, gender based violence starts even before a girl child is born. Reports on gender selection estimate that nearly half a million female fetuses are snuffed out every year1 Violence against women manifests in many other abominable forms as well, which include: forced child marriage, dowry, eve teasing, acid –throwing, rape (both marital and non-marital), infanticide, forced prostitution, honor killings, sati (the practice of widow-burning), and trafficking in women.  UNFPA reports that one in three women experiences some or other form of violence in her life.2

Governments, economists, and social scientists have been stressing on the need for financial and social empowerment to eliminate atrocities on women. Financial independence is regarded as the mother of all forms of independence. For instance, a woman with decent financial power will be less inclined to abort her female fetus or give consent for infanticide. Economically empowered women will use their income clout to have better say in equitable decisions in sons’ and daughters’ diet, healthcare, and education.

Women with a career or a source of income are less likely to stay in abusive relationships as they will be less dependent on their spouses’ financial resources. Financially empowered women will also have the courage to stand up against violence and report violations of their rights. “Where there is any contribution to the economic life, women are less put in situations where they are abused,” says Melanne Verveer, the US State Department’s ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues.

But there is a flipside to the story.

Financial empowerment cannot insulate women against violence completely and will not be effective if not combined with other measures. On the contrary increasing economic freedom may subject women to heightened risk of abuse as has been reported recently in a study conducted in Bangalore. The study conducted by IIM Bangalore and RTI International between 2005 and 2006 on 750 women aged 16-25 reports that those who got employed in that period had 80 percent more chance of getting abused by their husbands. This is a backlash against the economic independence of the wives. Husbands and intimate partners could turn violent when their own job security is threatened and they feel insecure about their spouses’ economic freedom .

It is clear that economic empowerment is helpful, but it doesn’t hold the key in eliminating violence against women. Educating women about their rights is important. More important is the change in the mindset of people. Unless the mindset and attitude of people change financial empowerment will not be effective in eliminating or curbing violence against women.3


- Kishore Chand Patro (views expressed in the article are that of the author)