Each year, the world observes the Sixteen Days of Activism from 25 November, International Day of Violence Against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day.
In 2014, Gender Links promoted economic empowerment of women as a theme in the activities for the Sixteen Day campaign across the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries. This year, we foreground the theme as we join the world in celebrating Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, inaugurated at the United Nations on 19 November 2014.
We have decided to start our Sixteen Day campaign a week early, on this positive note, because we are convinced that the only sustainable solution to ending gender violence is for women to claim their rightful place: socially, politically and economically.
Evidence shows that gender violence is far from being deterred during or in between the Sixteen Day campaigns. This requires serious reflection. What does it really mean to address gender violence? More and more, economic abuse is being understood as a form of control and a perpetuator of gender-based violence (GBV).
For many years, we gathered and shared gruesome first-hand accounts of survivors of gender violence – our ‘I’ Stories series. In almost every case, survivors told a similar story: they stay in, or go back into abusive relationships because they lack economic choices.
For too long, we have focused on reactive strategies to ending violence – laws, policies, campaigns and temporary shelters.
Survivors need more than a temporary shelter from harm. They need to be able to have the tools and resources to make positive choices and to believe in their own ability to survive and break away from abusive situations as a long term option.
Gender Links believes that this requires the building of personal agency, self-confidence and a belief in survivors’ own ability to support themselves and their children. The importance of understanding the role of economic abuse as a form of GBV needs far more attention as a tool that traps women in situations where other forms of abuse can be perpetrated.
It stands to reason that women are more likely to stay in a relationship if they are financially dependent. But there have been insufficient attempts to qualify or quantify this assumption.
In 2013 Gender Links embarked on a life skills and entrepreneurship development programme for 1500 survivors of GBV in 10 Southern African Development Community countries. The project aimed to provide women with tools to make alternative long-term choices. The project also aimed to test the hypothesis that economic independence can reduce the levels of GBV.
The aim of the programme includes the need to increase women’s agency and independence, socially, emotionally and economically, to empower them to participate fully in all aspects of their private and public lives, to provide them with the tools to realise their economic potential as entrepreneurs and offer alternatives to persevering in situations where they experience GBV.
Gender Links is in the final stages of analysing the results of follow up research. Preliminary analysis shows that many of the women have experienced high levels of confidence building, have been able to share their stories with others, stand up against abuse and even leave the abusive relationships.
As part of the research, each participant wrote a first- hand account of their abuse before and after the programme. Today, we share one story from each of the ten countries as a celebration of the strength of these women in the face of GBV.
A number of stories show money being withheld as a form of control prior to women gaining economic independence. Conversely, many now report that the violence has stopped. Most attribute this to the fact that they are no longer financially dependent and have developed confidence and self-worth. This gives them the ability to demand respect and peace in their relationships with partners, family and their communities.
Some of this I stories from South Africa demonstrate this. These two quotes help to tell the story: Jane says “I was experiencing violence in my house but now things are better than before. My husband’s attitude has changed as he is no longer abusing me. He is realising that I am a women of worth, who is able to speak to other women and to women who are in a similar situation I was in the past. Gender Links has helped me a lot”.
Margaret adds: “I could not do things for myself before but now I have opened a market that sells chickens. I am able to pay for my children’s school fees from the money I make when selling chickens. Today, I can raise my children without any help from my husband. We are now progressing at home; I can even pay for burial societies and other things. Life is no longer hard like back in the days. Today I am independent, my family is always happy. I was happy learning to use a computer for the first time. I feel empowered and I have realised that the most important thing is to know about business.”
Whilst reading the 10 follow up “I” stories that can be accessed here together with audio visual footage, reflect on the tone of positivity and confidence exuded: the move towards sustainable solutions for an unsustainable problem.
As we look to the global and regional post 2015 agenda, that includes ending violence against women, and a strong emphasis on women’s economic empowerment, we can say with even greater conviction that ending violence must begin with the empowerment of women!
- Anne Hilton is entrepreneurship manager and Colleen Lowe Morna is chief executive officer of Gender Links. This article forms part of the Gender Links News Service.
Photo Courtesy: Flickr.