By Danielle Marse-Kapr
Senior Advocacy and Policy Associate, Economic Empowerment, YWCA USA
Domestic violence and all violence against women is reliant on a system of inequality that devalues women while artificially elevating men. This imbalance is particularly stark when it comes to economic inequality between men and women. By now, we’ve all heard that women earn only a fraction of what men do and that this inequality is exacerbated by racial inequality – black, Hispanic, and Native American women are 3 times more likely to live in poverty than white men. For women experiencing domestic violence, the impact can be devastating.
Some have been quick to tell women that the best way to gain economic stability is to marry a man. While their solution to women’s poverty is as grim as it is incorrect, the truth is that single women are at a significant financial disadvantage. Nearly 40% of single-mother households are living in poverty and 60% of poor children live with single moms. Even for women without children, the poverty rate is substantial: 1 in 7 women live in poverty. These economic realities make it harder for a woman to leave an abuser.
For victims of domestic violence, achieving financial security is doubly challenging. First, they face the same structural disadvantages that all women endure as a result of a culture that doesn’t support working women, and is especially hostile to working mothers. Legislative and social change is necessary to level the playing field. Careers that employ mostly women workers are notoriously low paying, even though they are often some of the most valuable jobs in our society, such as childcare and healthcare workers. Even when women enter male-dominated jobs, they still make less than their male counterparts. Women make up 60% of the minimum wage workforce, which means that millions of adult women across the country are taking home meager paychecks ($15,080 annually) that cannot begin to cover their expenses. Furthermore, most of the jobs in these minimum wage and pink-collar fields do not offer important benefits, like paid sick days and maternity leave. In fact, for working mothers, the stakes are even higher. Pregnant workers still face discrimination on the job and can be pushed out of their jobs altogether. Women with kids earn less than both men and women without kids as well as fathers (who typically see a salary increase after having kids). In one study, mothers were offered $11,000 less than women without kids and $13,000 less than fathers.
Second, women facing domestic violence must contend not only with batterers’ manipulations of these injustices, but also with financial abuse. An abuser may sabotage a woman’s efforts at work in a variety of ways not limited to stalking and humiliating them on the job, tampering with transportation, clothing, or other workplace needs, and even physically battering prior to important work opportunities. Abusers may forbid their partner from working altogether or take and withhold wages. Abusive partners can spend excessively from joint accounts or run up debt in her name. Conversely, a batterer may stop working altogether and refuse to contribute to the household income, which forces the sole responsibility onto the victim.
When we fail to elevate women economically, we are putting additional tools if oppression into abusers’ hands. After all, batterers know that they have a system of male privilege on their side. Women should not have to worry that if they take steps to protect their physical and emotional well-being (and that of their children!) they will not have the means to do so. A strong social safety net, fair workplace legislation, and an educated culture of understanding can give women the vital support at a challenging time.
Take action with the YWCA has we focus on economic violence all day today:
- Tell Congress to take guns out of the hands of abusers.
- Tell Congress to end the sequester and restore a strong social safety net for women and their families.
- Tell Congress to raise the minimum wage and help women workers move out of poverty.
- Spread the word on Twitter with #workagainstviolence
This post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ 2014 Blog Carnival. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #workagainstviolence.