Women’s economic independence, an essential tool to end violence against women

“If they kill me, my arms will stretch out of my tomb and I will be stronger”. This was how Minerva Mirabal once replied to a death threat due to her bold opposition to the Trujillo regime. She and her sisters Patria and María Teresa firmly resisted the dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, and their violent deaths 57 years ago detonated the world’s fight against gender violence. This tragedy has also become an opportunity to remember women around the world who continue to suffer physically, psychologically, sexually and economically just because they are women.

Recent data show that although progress has been made in terms of reducing violence against women and girls, society still has a long way to go to achieve a complete halt on gender abuse.

Gender-based violence is multi-dimensional, but its scope is oftentimes confined around the physical, psychological and sexual perspectives. The existence and persistence of economic violence is not usually considered, and only lately have studies and reports regarded this aspect.

Economic violence is defined as any behavior involving the use or misuse of financial resources, including deprivation, or retention of money or property, to make a woman financially dependent by maintaining control over financial resources.

Limited data is available on the incidence of economic violence. However, the economic aspect is an influential catalyst for violence, according to the World Bank. When a woman is deprived of economic resources, she is more dependent on income recipients, who are usually men. Her lack of means would prevent her from leaving an abusive relationship, making her susceptible to be a victim of domestic abuse and proving that gender violence is also originated and perpetuated by the impoverished situation. In fact, the prevalence of violence is more frequent in underprivileged environments. The 2016 Women, Business and the Law Report states that “women living in wealthier households have a 45% lower risk of violence than those living in poorer ones.”

Accordingly, it is with the spirit of providing equal access to economic resources that the BBVA Microfinance Foundation (BBVAMF) and UN Women have partnered through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) three years ago, reinforced with a joint action plan that was recently stipulated. Both institutions advocate for female economic empowerment and the elimination of any constraints towards this aim, such as violence against women. They have identified financial inclusion, capacity building (training and education), as well as livelihood acquisition in the form of microenterprises as tools to achieve them.

Furthermore, the Foundation, through its entities in Latin America, is currently implementing its own initiatives with the aim of contributing to mitigate and prevent gender violence. Some of these include:

  • Capacity-building through workshops and lectures about gender-based violence in Chile and the Dominican Republic
  • Also in the Dominican Republic, a collaborative agreement with non-government and public agencies has been signed for provision of legal  and psychological support as well as access to microcredits for victims
  • Performance evaluation of projects and initiatives oriented towards women’s empowerment and gender violence prevention in its six entities
  • Public sensitization and awareness creation through the media on the current issues about women’s  economic empowerment through Progreso, its online legal magazine

In Latin America, women are now highly participating in generating income, may it be through paid employment or microenterprising. It may be easy to imagine them being more empowered, catching up to their male counterpart, but cultural and social norms as well as gender stereotypes still limit their economic empowerment. Namely, early marriages and pregnancies, their disproportionate share of household chores, men abandoning family maintenance, and the consequent increase in single-parent households headed by women raise their economic risks.

Particularly, women belonging to the “Sticky floors” and “Broken ladders” groups- as identified by the 2017 report on Progress of Women in Latin America and the Caribbean (UN Women) – are more prone to struggle against poor access to secure jobs, lack of opportunity for education and lifelong learning, and excessive household work. These situations restrain their ability to hone their skills and access stable livelihoods so they could gain economic independence and reduce their chances of being gender violence victims. 

On November 25th, 1960, the lifeless bodies of the Mirabal sisters were found inside their vehicle, as their attackers tried to silence their voices. Yet their struggle outlived them so much, that ending gender violence is currently included as a target under Goal 5 in the Sustainable Development Goals. Removing one of the biggest roadblocks towards sustainable development is not only acceptable- it is necessary. Still, even without this rationale, ending gender violence should not only serve as a means to an end. It should be the norm. As citizens of an ever-progressing global community, no one must be left behind.