Similar to the analogy that you cannot expect a starving child to study well, we cannot expect women facing violence and exploitation to make full use of financial empowerment.
Modern analysis of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and of human rights affirm control over bodily safety as basic human necessity and right. It is a requisite of human advancement.
In 2015, Sandhya was much more than a wife and mother of two beautiful girls. She was also the manager of her family’s kirana shop, including the cash flow and budgets. Kirana shops typically sell groceries and basic household items, but Sandhya was industrious and also sold petrol and collected and recycled liquor bottles. She did this without any support from her husband. She used to tell her mother I literally take care of my husband as a child. Yet, Sandhya did not control any financial decisions at home or have access to the money she helped earn. While she managed the shop, her husband was in complete control of her life. She suffered 14 years of life-threatening violence at the hands of her husband. Access to financial resources and business skills did not empower her enough to take control of her life to keep her and her daughters safe.
Sandhya finally raised the courage to save money and plan her midnight escape, only after sessions with a counsellor helped her build an empowered perspective of self. Now, in 2017, she and her daughters live free of violence. Sandhya rents an apartment, sends her daughters to a private school and even pays the salary of an assistant who works in her new shop. She is capable of working hard, but none of that mattered before she was empowered to take control of her life and put an end to the daily abuse she suffered.
It is stories like Sandhya’s that led My Choices Foundation Founder and Director, Elca Grobler, to work in the space of gender based violence rather than economic empowerment. Elca’s combined educational and work background of 23 years was spent entirely in financial services. Her most formative years were those spent working in microfinance. Yet, when she moved to India and listened to what women really needed help with, she was compelled to leave her expertise behind and build a non government organisation providing services to women desperate to escape domestic abuse.
Praseeda Kunam of Samhita Microfinance in India, who serves over 62,000 women in Madhya Pradesh with economic opportunities, found that women who do not have access to knowledge about their rights are not fully empowered. These women, although provided with economic opportunity, were still often powerless at home and over their own safety. Praseeda now works to make sure each of her clients are educated about their right to safety.
Gary Haugen, Founder and CEO of global anti-trafficking NGO International Justice Mission (IJM) stated:
Far below the headlines, a plague of hidden, everyday violence – like rape, trafficking, and police brutality – is devastating the developing world and undermining our efforts to end poverty.
A world free of poverty will not be realized until it is a world free from violence.
Unfortunately, violence around the world is distinctly gendered. Women and girls are the worst affected in any crisis, cause or issue. Violence, abuse and exploitation hinder and bar our dream of equal opportunity becoming a reality.
Women’s access to financial services is on the rise, and definitely a critical part of both women empowerment as well as the global end of poverty. However, statistics tell us that it is not addressing the root problems of inequality. An Indian woman is 100 times more likely to die of child-bearing related causes than a woman anywhere else in the world. This tells us that family resources are not being directed to her care. Around 50% of Indian women face domestic abuse. This tells us that while their education, employment and leadership is being encouraged, they are still not respected as equals at home.
To address inequality and achieve an end to poverty, we must address women’s control over their own safety. As Sandhya and thousands of other women’s stories demonstrate, ending violence in women’s lives is a precursor to taking advantage of economic empowerment. If this is true, then ending (gender-based) violence is a requisite to ending poverty.