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Promoting Inclusive Markets and Financial Systems

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Is Financial Inclusion a Route to Reducing Intimate Partner Violence? What Does the Evidence Suggest?

This blog is published as part of the 2017 WEE Global Learning Forum Blog Series.

This blog was written by Dr. Anita Raj of the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine and the Center on Gender Equity and Health, and Dr. Jeni Klugman of Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security and a Fellow at the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School, subsequent to their panel presentations at the WEE Global Learning Forum on May 24th, 2017, in Bangkok, Thailand.


Despite major improvements in tackling global poverty and expanding education around the world over the last several decades, economic gender gaps persist, as documented by the recent report of the High Level Panel of the UN Secretary General. These gender gaps in the economy exist alongside adverse gender norms and persistently high rates of intimate partner violence (IPV), the latter issue affecting one in three women globally.

One review of evaluation research studies found that economic interventions, particularly provision of microcredit and microloans, reduce women’s risk for intimate partner violence (IPV). At the same time, cross-sectional research inclusive of a broader array of economic empowerment indicators, including women’s employment and control over resources or assets, yields more mixed findings. These patterns have been explored in recent multi-country studies from Heise and Kotsadam and Hanmer and Klugman, but these studies did not address financial inclusion (e.g., having a bank account, along or jointly with their husband).

At the recent Women’s Economic Empowerment Global Learning Forum in Bangkok, we held a panel discussion entitled, “Financial inclusion for women facing IPV- What works? What doesn’t?”

Key Findings

We shared cross-national analyses demonstrating new findings that nations with higher prevalence of financial inclusion among women, as measured by the World Bank’s Findex, have significantly lower rates of IPV. Longitudinal analyses with women in rural India corroborated these findings; risk for incident IPV over an 18 month period was reduced by 54% among women with bank accounts and by 67% if women had joint control over husband’s income. Both quantitative studies also suggested significant associations between adverse gender norms and IPV. Qualitative data from women in India further indicated that women’s collectives can support financial inclusion, while cautioning that these may not prevent IPV in a context of adverse gender norms.

What This Research Suggests

Do not assume that women’s labor force participation, employment and income generation will reduce women’s risk for IPV. Multi-country analyses do not show robust findings regarding the level of women’s employment and the prevalence of IPV. Indeed, in the context of rural India, where female employment is uncommon, it is associated with increased risk for IPV. While women who generate income may gain greater control over the household income, women’s income generation may also be indicative of financial stressors in places where female employment is not the norm, and these financial stressors may contribute to increased risk for IPV.

Women’s financial inclusion may reduce risk for IPV. Financial inclusion may serve as a protective factor against IPV. This is a welcome finding, given that rates of financial inclusion are increasing around the world – the World Bank’s FINDEX shows that the global rate of women’s account ownership rose by 11% between 2010 and 2014. But there is a persistent gender gap of seven percentage points globally. In developing economies the gender gap remains a steady nine percentage points, with only half of women in developing countries having an account. According to the World Bank, rates of women’s financial inclusion are still low – especially in South Asia (37%), sub-Saharan Africa (30%) and especially the Middle East and North Africa (7%). The important policy implication is that the expansion of financial access may have instrumental value in reducing women’s risk for IPV at scale.

Digital financial inclusion efforts can support women’s financial inclusion in contexts of IPV. Given that IPV often occurs where women’s mobility is restricted, opportunities for women to engage in financial inclusion without husbands’ participation or even knowledge are important. Digital financial inclusion efforts can facilitate privacy and control, enabling greater female autonomy. As digital accounts become more widely available, this will be an important angle to assess, directly in terms of account use and indirectly by assessment of women’s access to mobile technologies.

Women’s ownership and their control over assets and resources may also reduce risk for IPV. In places where relatively few women have paid work, their ownership and control over land, income, and even, as indicated by data from rural Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh presented at the panel, their joint control over husbands’ income, appear to be consistently associated with reduced risk for IPV. Women in such positions may gain more respect from men regarding bargaining and decision-making, or they may be better able to resist or escape violence in these contexts.

But Remember, Context Matters

Not surprisingly, social and gender norms can vary across countries and groups and they affect observed associations between women’s economic empowerment and risk for IPV, both in terms of norms related to women’s labor force participation and financial inclusion, as well as norms of acceptability as related to IPV. Normative shifts on all these fronts are needed, at multiple levels, among women, male partners, families, communities and societies as a whole. For example, financial inclusion may help enable unmarried or childless women and girls to escape abusive relationships, relative to women and girls who are married or with children, given the stigma against divorce and difficulties of family dissolution in traditional contexts.

Collective action, such as women’s collectives, can support women’s engagement in financial inclusion services and entrepreneurship, but these groups do not always facilitate IPV prevention or intervention among group members known to be in an abusive relationship. Nandita Bhatla from ICRW presented qualitative data drawn from members and leaders of finance-based women’s collective groups in Uttar Pradesh (known as self-help groups in this context), that suggested that many feel IPV was beyond the appropriate scope of work, despite wide recognition that this is a not uncommon concern for many members of the collectives. Others felt integration of IPV prevention into these collectives could be useful, but there was lack of clarity regarding how best to do this.

Better data is needed. Much research is limited by the types of measures and data that currently exist on women’s economic empowerment and financial inclusion, as well as on IPV, and by where we have available data. Many of the indicators included in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 5 are not currently available for many countries. Additionally, while indicator 5A, for example, focuses broadly on control over land and other property, targets for these indicators are mostly specific to agricultural land. Moreover, collective action is often not a focus of our measurement, which typically assess such individual level indicators.

Implications

In sum, our panel underscored the potential for financial inclusion to play an important role in preventing intimate partner violence. Women’s control over resources and assets appears to be even more important than women’s generation of income. Social norms that constrain women’s economic empowerment and those that condone IPV are inter-related, and a major part of the challenge to be addressed. Overall, the panel offered promising insights into effective ways to accelerate progress toward the global goal of eliminating intimate partner violence and the important role of financial inclusion and financial services in these efforts.


Anita Raj, PhD, is a Professor of Medicine and Global Public Health and the Founding Director of the Center on Gender Equity and Health at the University of California, San Diego. She has served as Principal Investigator or Co-Investigator on more than 50 federal, foundation and multilateral (e.g., UNICEF) grants conducting research on gender inequities and health in South Asia, the United States, Russia, and sub-Saharan Africa, and she has approximately 180 peer-reviewed publications from this research. She has published in such prestigious journals as the Lancet, and her research has been featured in media outlets across national settings.

Jeni Klugman is Managing Director at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, and a fellow at the Kennedy School of Government’s Women in Public Policy Program at Harvard University. Previous positions include Director of Gender and Development at the World Bank, and director and lead author of three global Human Development Reports published by the UNDP. She sits on several boards and panels, including for the World Economic Forum and the Journal of Human Development and Capabilities. She holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the Australian National University and postgraduate degrees in both Law and Development Economics from the University of Oxford where she was a Rhodes Scholar.

1 Comment

Kiten Meena says:
Jun 06, 2017

Hi Anitha,

Well said. I read the article this week about an IIT graduate, who committed suicide. She was smart and talented woman and working. Financially capable of taking care of herself and family. The exact reason for her taking her life are not known, family member suggest she was under social pressure and living away from her partner. I could not sleep thinking about it. There is lot of domestic violence happens in India and in any country. Unless, there is supportive family it is very difficult to women to come out of it or accept it.
I would like to get involved more in the work you do or WEE do to enable women to stand for themselves.

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