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Last week Thursday we officially kicked off 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence with a #Womenomics conversation about financial violence. As with emotional, physical, and sexual abuse financial abuse is a common tactic employed by abusers with the sole purpose of gaining power and control to entrap a partner in an intimate relationship.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence (GBV) in the world. But we rarely hear or engage in conversations about the economic cost such horrific violence has on women and society at large. 

Today we will continue to highlight the economic cost of GBV, the impact of COVID-19 and ways in which corporations and government entities contribute to upholding the economic systems and policies that perpetuate financial violence against women and children. 

The Violence of Unemployment & COVID-19  

There’s no sugar-coating the fact that South Africa’s rapidly increasing unemployment rate adversely impacts women and children. The ongoing global pandemic and the recent unrest in our country not only exacerbated the unemployment rate but also placed an even greater burden on women who not only bear the brunt of their unemployment but that of their partner/father of their child/ren who are either unemployed or working fewer hours.

Covid-19 has also accelerated gender pay inequality. Stats SA recently released a report titled ‘Inequality Trends in SA’. The report states that women earn on average 30% less than men occupying the same position. Despite the known financial challenges the government continues to prioritise the financial wellbeing of men, leaving women to defend themselves against financial abuse at home and in the workplace. 

The Violence of the Maintenance Act

Maintenanceis the obligation to provide another person, for example, a minor, with housing, food, clothing, education and medical care, or with the means that are necessary for providing the person with these essentials. This legal duty to maintain is called ‘the duty to maintain’ or ‘the duty to support.

While some sections of the maintenance act read well, the lived reality is a special kind of nightmare. For example;

The Maintenance Act, Section 15. 3 (b) states that “any amount so determined shall be such an amount as the maintenance court may consider fair in all the circumstances of the case”. The courts disregard the integrity and intentions of the Maintenance Act by continuously protecting the father’s interests. The opportunistic bias is evident in maintenance courts as they regularly fail to consider the best interest of the child.

Economic vulnerability of women and children is a reality that preexists the pandemic and recent social unrest. Since 1996 Politicians have publicly and regularly made empty promises to transform and address gender inequality. Sadly the struggle for financial security for women and children continues to be treated as a private struggle. The ongoing pandemic has exacerbated the gendered nature of financial insecurity, highlighting ongoing inequalities of the South African judicial system. 

Political Abuse 

Violence against women has been one of the most prominent post-apartheid political talking points. GBV has dominated national public debates galvanizing community-based activism and NGO intervention. The ANC government continues to perpetuate violence with their verbal commitments to change but no substantive action.   

The 1996 National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS) established crimes of violence against women and children as a national priority and several other legislative reforms such as the Criminal Law Amendment Act, no 105 of 1997,  tightening bail conditions for those charged with rape through the Criminal Procedure Second Amendment Act (no 85 of 1997),  the passing of the Domestic Violence Act (DVA) (no. 118 of 1998). National Policy Guidelines for the Handling of Victims of Sexual Offences was finalised in 1998 and the Policy Framework and Strategy for Shelters for Victims of Domestic Violence in South Africa in 2003 (Department of Social Development, 2003). Specialist facilities have also been set up such as family courts, specialist sexual offences courts and Thuthuzela centres

In 2018, the mounting calls from women’s groups, civil society and the public at large prompted the convening of the first Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide. However, much like the maintenance act, these acts seem great in theory but have yet to impact women and children in tangible transformative ways. 

Economic Impact of Corporate Abuse

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) conducted a survey that revealed the multi-layered impact of GBV on women’s careers and economic stability. Eighty percent of the women who were surveyed said that their abusive intimate partners significantly disrupt their ability to work/earn, resulting in 53 percent of them losing their jobs. This not only impacts the individual and their family but it also impacts the productivity of the workforce costing the government billions of rands.  

According to a report that was conducted by KPMG, gender-based violence costs South Africa between R28.4 billion and R42.4 billion per year – or between 0.9% and 1.3% of the annual GDP.  Between 20% and 30% of women experiencing gender-based violence within a given year, this study estimates that the economic impact of that violence is at minimum R28.4 billion and R42.4 billion, representing 0.9% and 1.3% of GDP respectively.

The estimates are only a rough minimum estimate of the actual costs, as we are unable to ascertain actual figures because the necessary data for comprehensive cost analysis is just not available in South Africa. 

Many domestic violence survivors have to also contend with being sexually harassed or violated by male co-workers and or supervisors. Reporting the abuse has in many instances either led to the dismissal of the victim or adversely impacted their career path with perpetrators in powerful positions and their enablers blocking the victims from progressing professionally.    

Tarana Burke’s  #MeToo movement not only highlighted the decade’s long-lived reality of financial abuse that women have had to survive globally but also the sophisticated far-reaching patriarchal structures and systems that have protected men in leadership positions from being held accountable. 

The Socio-Economic Impact & Debt Protection Tips

The lack of equal access to financial resources and legal and political support for women keeps women hostage in abusive relationships and or workplaces. This has also contributed to the grossly under-reporting of financial violence at a corporate and intimate level.

African Bank’s Mellony Ramalho recently said, “Economic abuse is a very real issue in South Africa and should be taken seriously. It is not limited to a marriage, but occurs even with the elderly, parent-child relationships, between friends and so on,” 

The CEO of the National Debt Mediation Association, Magauta Mphahlele, acknowledges that they deal with cases of economic abuse at a debt management level every day.

The association is registered as an alternative dispute resolution agent with the National Credit Regulator – meaning they resolve credit disputes between consumers and credit providers through mediation, conciliation or arbitration.

Mphahlele says that they regularly find that, “Individuals are forced to incur debt or to be responsible for the debt they did not incur,”. 

Mphahlele advises women to implement the following protective steps to avoid or lessen the impact of financial abuse:

  • Before partners share any sort of financial product, they need to have a conversation about money. Decide who owns what and who owes what. Find out if taxes are outstanding and figure out how you are going to sort out your finances in a fair manner.
  • Keep each other honest by checking each other’s credit reports and agree on a joint strategy to fix problems if any are identified. This means there will be fewer surprises down the line. If there are any financial skeletons in the closet, you can make a plan together to deal with them early on. 
  • Have regular chats about how you are doing financially and how you are going to achieve and maintain your financial dreams.

So what is it going to take for the government and corporations to stop paying lip service and perpetuating or upholding systems of abuse? Charlene Roberson, of TEARS Foundation  a Women-led organization that provides national access to crisis intervention, advocacy, counselling, and prevention education services for those impacted by domestic violence, sexual assault and child sexual abuse suggested the following:

  • Governments and corporations can ensure equal pay and rights for men and women to ensure there is no power imbalance and therefore reduce the risks of men feeling entitled to take advantage of females.
  • Corporates can ensure that they are paying their employee’s salaries into their account and not a joint or partner’s account. 
  • Government can put funding towards specialized legal services to assist victims suffering financial abuse.
  • Skills development for victims of financial abuse

There is no denying the fact that the repercussions of financial violence are far-reaching. Not only are victims impacted directly, but so is our society, culture, and our economy. 

Resources

TEARS Foundation provides national access to crisis intervention, advocacy, counselling, and prevention education services for those impacted by domestic violence, sexual assault and child sexual abuse through the TEARS portals:

·            Help at your fingertips, *134*7355# (Free 24/7) Choose option 2 in case of emergency

·            Storefinder locator: https://tears.storefind.mobi/

·            Helpline: 010 590 5920 (Standard rates apply)

·            Email address: info@tears.co.za

TEARS Foundation assists nationwide with 24 hours free SMS Confidential services to all victims at no charge! All these platforms are monitored 24/7 – 365 days, nationwide with a free service to anyone who has access to a phone. 

The foundation identifies the closest centre to you and we link or connect victims to facilities that offer the following services:

  • Individual counselling
  • Group counselling/ couples counselling
  • Support groups
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • They link victims to emergency shelters
  • Refer to medical facilities for medical attention (for rape victims) so they get access to:
    • Antiretrovirals (ARVs) treatment to avoid the infection of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) because HIV is preventable
    • The morning-after pill to avoid unwanted pregnancy from the rape
    • Antibiotics for possible Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
    • Blood tests to test for date rape drugs in the blood system
    • Internal medical examination to see and treat the extent of the victim’s injuries
    • Access to a medical facility that issues a J88 for court purposes
  • Follow up with the police on behalf of victims who have case numbers
  • Advice on how to apply for a protection order
  • Refer child victims to child-friendly facilities
  • Guide women and men on how to leave abusive relationships

For help, you can dial *134*7355# and follow the prompts or call us on 010 590 5920 or send them a message on their social media pages or email address: info@tears.co.za 

Social Media Handles

Instagram: @tears_foundation

Twitter: @TEARSFoundation

Facebook: Tears