As the world battles COVID-19, a certain number of women in South Africa are fighting what the United Nations terms the shadow pandemic: endemic gender-based violence (GBV).
The government GBV and Femicide Command Centre alone recorded more than 120,000 victims in the first three weeks of lockdown last year.
While lockdown has eased, the issue continues and is likely even more far reaching than many think as GBV can take many forms including the financial manipulation and fear trapping many women in abusive homes.
If you are not affected by gender-based violence, you may wonder why some women stay with a partner who abuses them. The answer is not so straight-forward.
One in three South African women is affected by gender-based violence, and 99% of GBV cases also include economic abuse. Economic abuse involves controlling the victim’s ability to use, maintain and create financial resources.
Many victims are even prevented from working and earning their own money. These women are rarely given access to money and when they are, they are forced to account for every cent
Often, economic abusers employ subtle and devious tactics like manipulation while others will simply intimidate and demand through physical and emotional force. It becomes difficult for women to leave the relationship when they are not financially independent and their financial matters are intricately tied to their partners.
The harsh reality is that women who leave abusive relationships are often left in financial ruin and end up in shelters, during what is the most vulnerable point in their lives.
In addition, their abusers may have limited their ability to earn an income and handled all money matters – excluding the victim from any financial decisions and financial knowledge which has a severe long-term implication. This is the product of financial abuse.
So, what can a woman in this situation do?
On the other end of the extreme, the abuser could have refused to work, feeling entitled to their victim’s money, racking up debt, ruining the victim’s credit and even stealing their identity.
Assessing the level of victimisation
First and foremost, you need to assess the level to which you feel financially threatened or violated. If there isn’t any violence or manipulation you may be suffering a difference of financial values of goals. Express your concerns to your partner and perhaps see a relationship counsellor to help provide balance in the relationship.
If you are being financially abused – you first need to take stock
If you are feeling abused and love has turned into fear and resentment, you need to gain access to your accounts and ascertain how much you have available and how much you owe in debt. It’s better to be aware of what you have in your name to know where you stand.
Getting your house in order
The next thing to do is gather up all the important documents, make copies and keep them somewhere the abuser won’t find them. Make sure they are always available for when you need them.
Don’t be afraid to use resources
Never forget that there are resources out there that offer relief for victims of domestic violence survivors and access to information and assistance doesn’t have to cost a thing. The government has listed a host of incredible organisations that are ready help.
Finding someone you can trust
Seek out someone you can trust to discuss your finances and plans with. Trustworthy friends could understand your circumstances better than anyone else and might have some ideas around where to start a financial conversation.
Putting your plans into action
The role of a professional financial adviser in these situations can be used to strengthen the relationship between women and their money.
A professional adviser can be invaluable in giving you the best advice on what to do with your finances. They will also have information about solutions available to you that you might not even be aware of. So it’s important that victims of GBV and financial abuse consider meeting with a professional financial adviser.
Talking about these shadow issues to bring them into the light
I think that if we create money matters clubs where we socialise and talk about challenges and ideas, it will help us to get a better grasp on our finances the complexities that exist around them.
It’s an opportunity for women to get together in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, a safe and enabling space.
I am proud to share that we have done just that through our GBV Armour Up initiative. As 60% of our workforce are women, we have set up a force of skilled volunteers to help our employees recognise financial abuse and arm them with the tools, knowledge and support they need to fight abuse. That’s part of our contribution, but as a nation, we can always do more.
It may be 2021, COVID-19 may still be the object of our attention, but we cannot let the momentum of GBV awareness dissipate. Victims need to know that there is support out there.
If you are facing financial abuse from your partner, remember that financial power can be taken back. You need to take back control of your finances and start your journey to success.