FinDev Blog

Can Financial Service Providers Help Reduce Intimate Partner Violence?

A review of the literature suggests that the answer is yes
Woman sweeping, Nicaragua. Photo by Antonio Aragon Renuncio, 2016 CGAP Photo Contest.

35 percent of women globally experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, according to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates. Most of this violence is not perpetrated by a stranger, but by an intimate partner. While levels of intimate partner violence (IPV) vary by region, it occurs everywhere. Less than 40 percent of women who experience violence will seek any sort of help or support, and those who do turn mostly to family and friends without reporting it to authorities. Violence against women not only threatens lives, but also perpetuates female subordination. The negative impacts trickle down from the woman and her family to a country’s human, social and economic development.

What can we do as financial services actors to help move us towards a world where women do not face violence, are valued and can thrive on opportunity?  Our literature review, conducted in partnership with Brigham Young University Masters of Public Health student researchers, found that combining microfinance services with social empowerment interventions has been effective, and that measures to reduce the financial stress associated with taking on debt could also help.

Interventions to help reduce intimate partner violence

It is important to note that after violence has already occurred, the main intervention that helps prevent future violence is supporting a woman to leave her abuser. In terms of preventing violence from occurring in the first place, our literature review revealed that community dialogues, couples counseling and microfinance services have all had success. Community dialogues and couples counseling aim to change social norms and attitudes towards the use of violence and help people develop more positive coping mechanisms and communication. Microfinance focuses on economic empowerment and can also be used as a platform to reach vulnerable women with information and support.

However, microfinance by itself does not automatically reduce IPV. In fact, in our review of literature, we found that microfinance, primarily in the form of credit, has been shown to both increase and decrease the likelihood of IPV. On the one hand, financial stress, which is one of the reasons that violence can erupt, has the potential to increase as a woman takes on new economic opportunities and learns to manage new debt. On the other hand, as her confidence grows and households see an increase in income and the value she brings to the family, violence can go down. In order to help reduce IPV, therefore, financial service providers (FSPs) need to make concerted efforts with targeted interventions.

What can FSPs do?

When microfinance services are combined with social empowerment interventions such as gender dialogues and rights-based education, we see positive results.  While FSPs themselves may not be able to provide mental health support, couples counseling or community-based dialogues, they can partner with other institutions who specialize in this type of work. Such interventions can be incorporated into their savings groups, village banking or other client onboarding methods to ensure clients have access to information and resources on IPV and know where to go for help if it occurs.

Has your institution worked to address the issue of intimate partner violence? What approaches have you found to work? Please share your experience in the comments below.

What else can FSPs do to impact rates of IPV without moving too far away from their core work of financial services? Yount et al and Jewkes et al suggest the following:

  • Ensure flexible loan repayment schedules to reduce loan-related stress on women and their partners.
  • Promote group-based versus individual services so that women experience the mental health benefits of group identity and solidarity. 
  • Provide financial products that may also help women resolve time burden constraints. 
  • Work with men and women together as opposed to only with women or only with men. Family-centered models, particularly in highly patriarchal societies, can help build trust and prevent backlash. 
  • In cases where violence has already occurred, microfinance can help women leave their abusers by providing financial services that support financial autonomy. 

Start from within

In addition to these interventions, and perhaps even before embarking upon them, it is crucial to ensure that FSP leadership and staff reflect the values of gender equity and non-violence, and are recruited for and trained in gender-equitable behaviors. FSPs should ask themselves:

  • What is women’s representation in leadership positions and front-line staff?
  • Are men and women paid the same for similar positions?
  • How is sexual harassment in the workplace addressed? Are grievances appropriately handled?
  • Are men and women both afforded flexible work schedules, where possible, that can accommodate caretaking needs of households so as to recruit and retain qualified staff?

Why is it so important to undertake this internal evaluation? The people providing financial services are also influenced by gender norms and societal expectations and may have their own challenges to overcome related to their gender. In order to make progress on reducing intimate partner violence, we must first start with ourselves and ensure that FSPs cultivate equality and safety, both inside and out. 

FSPs - Share your experience

Has your institution worked to address the issue of intimate partner violence? What approaches have you found to work? Please share your experience in the comments below.

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