Women should not pay a high price for their autonomy

The annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign that begins today marks its 30th anniversary. This international initiative has grown a lot since its inception, but where are we three decades later? Progress is indisputable and issues related to gender violence have taken an important place in public debates around the world. Yet the pandemic calls these advances into question.

Pandemic and violence

The links between the pandemic and increasing inequalities in the world are well established1. Women and girls, especially those from racialized, indigenous, refugee, LGBTQI + or disabled communities, are among the most vulnerable to gender-based violence and the current health situation reinforces this vulnerability.2. Oxfam’s report ‘An Ignored Pandemic’ reveals that in several countries, calls to gender-based violence helplines increased by 25% to 111% in the first months of the pandemic. Containment measures, insecurity and food insecurity are among the factors contributing to this increase.

Faced with this observation, financial autonomy can prove to be strategic by allowing women and all people suffering from gender-based violence to protect themselves (for example by having the means to leave their home when they are abused) .

This is why many international development programs support the economic power of women by supporting microfinance, entrepreneurship or access to the labor market initiatives.

Despite their laudable intentions, these programs can produce perverse effects and expose women to violent situations.

The solutions: fragile empowerment

A review of scientific literature carried out by Oxfam-Québec underlines that women who have recently entered the labor market are eight times more at risk of experiencing domestic violence than unemployed women.3. Certain other factors, such as ethnicity, socioeconomic status or level of education, can reinforce this vulnerability. A woman who generates income and takes her autonomy may face opposition from a threatening spouse or arouse the envy of those close to her, situations which can lead to assault.

Any project should now include in its design an intersectional analysis taking into account issues related to gender and various factors of oppression. Significant efforts to prevent violence against women and girls are essential to ensure the financial independence of women, especially those belonging to marginalized groups.

More than words, actions

A solution to these challenges involves raising the awareness of people working in the economic development sector. To better understand the risk and prevention factors of gender-based violence, multidisciplinary collaborations between feminist and economic sectors are needed.

It is also essential to support feminist organizations in their work of prevention and support for survivors of violence, as well as in their advocacy efforts to transform the political and institutional structures that maintain gender inequalities. In Rwanda, for example, political and social reforms in the area of ​​security and gender-based violence have greatly contributed to reducing the risk of exposure of women to this type of violence.3.

A feminist revival

The pandemic offers new perspectives on the imperative of a fair and equitable feminist revival for all. This revival must prioritize the health and well-being of communities, where the economic security of women requires preventive and protective measures, such as the establishment of an ethics of care, the fight against harmful social norms, ” access to health and education services, etc. To set up financial support systems for women, it is necessary to act with the environment, by integrating the spouses, the family and even the community in certain parts of the project.⁠4, or by providing the necessary spaces for women to advocate for social policy reforms.

Ending gender-based violence requires a concerted and intersectoral approach between the private sector, the public sector and civil society. Women cannot thrive in a violent environment. The economic recovery brought about by the coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity for governments to tackle another pandemic, just as devastating, but too ignored: that of gender-based violence.

1. Read Oxfam’s report “The Inequality Virus” (2021)

2. Read the Oxfam document “A Feminist Future” (2020)

3. Read the Oxfam-Quebec document “Exploring the effects of women’s economic empowerment initiatives on domestic violence” (2019)

4. Read the Oxfam-Quebec document “Guide to preventing and mitigating domestic violence” (2021)

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