FinEquity Blog

Choosing Our Words Wisely: Is it Economic Violence, Financial Abuse, or Something Else?

Woman with money in her hand.

Words carry power and inform our reality. Making a choice of words was one of our tasks in a meeting of the minds a few months ago, when several FinEquity Community of Practice participants met to discuss the concept of financial abuse, particularly financial abuse experienced by women, as a virtually unexplored area of focus for the financial services sector.

Prior to this meeting, the Grameen Foundation had spent approximately six years working at the intersection of gender-based violence (GBV) and women’s economic empowerment (WEE). While most of our programmatic focus was on the mitigation of obvious forms of GBV, such as sexual and physical violence, with our WEE programming, we wondered about the less obvious forms of GBV, such economic violence. In fact,if you google a definition of GBV, you won’t consistently find economic violence included in the scope of GBV.  We knew very little about economic violence and had to stop and take the time to understand its relevance to our work.

As we launched a new project in Honduras, we worked with a researcher who had been developing an ‘economic coercion’ scale and wondered what we might learn by using it with clients served by our financial services provider (FSP) partner. As we designed focus group discussion guides and survey instruments, we were advised not to use the words “GBV” or even “violence” but focus on asking people about “mistreatment”. Why? Because using “violence” might cause a harsh reaction and draw a picture of someone being physically or sexually abused, without encompassing the more “hidden” experiences of being harmed by someone economically. When men and women were interviewed, at first, they recognized the most obvious forms of mistreatment, such as verbal and physical abuse. Then, they began to talk about more nuanced forms of mistreatment, including economic coercion. Using ‘mistreatment’ as a descriptor instead of GBV or domestic violence seemed to provide more space for considering the reasons behind and the experiences of GBV, such as lack of education.  

"Yes, verbally and physically I have seen it and the same neighbors have told me about the blows they are given."

"The [mistreated] one who does not have an education, who does not have a way to fend for herself and who does not have physical and economic support. But more than all education. Here I think they would be the people who come from the mountains because of them, they have a different mentality because they think that the man is the one who makes all the decisions, because in that place it is customary that the man makes the decisions."

During the FinEquity discussion, we debated whether to introduce this topic as economic violence/abuse or financial violence/abuse. Surviving Economic Abuse, a UK-based non-profit, distinguishes the two by defining financial abuse as “controlling finances, stealing money, coercing someone into debt” and economic abuse as “financial abuse plus controlling other resources such as housing, food, transport, and employment.”  

In short, financial abuse is a form of economic abuse. However, financial abuse, we agreed, was terminology relevant for all FSPs whereas economic abuse might not be; while some FSPs do support women’s entrepreneurship and provide business training and support, not all do. As we pursue this agenda, we may discover other words that matter more in different contexts than ‘financial abuse’.   

Catherine Fitzpatrick, in her publication, Designed to Disrupt: Reimagining banking products to improve financial safety wrote: “There is an opportunity for the finance sector to continue to prioritize women’s economic safety through building safety principles into every facet of the product life cycle. Not just to ask ‘should we’, but to embrace the fact that few other businesses are better placed to protect women against financial abuse and its devastating health and economic impacts for them and their children.”   

To achieve that, Grameen recently launched Program SAFE, which stands for Safeguarding women from Abuse in the Financial Ecosystem and a related blog series where we’re sharing some of the research and experience we’ve uncovered on this topic. We also invite others in the financial inclusion sector to embrace the responsibility we have to protect women against financial abuse. 

FinEquity will be hosting a webinar on June 25th from 9 to 10 a.m. EST where I’ll be joined by CGAP and FinEquity moderator, Aude de Montesquiou; Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, an international expert in economic abuse; and Sarah Twigg who is leading a new project by the International Finance Committee on financial abuse. I hope you’ll join us to learn more and contribute your own experiences and reactions to this issue!   

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