Quarantine has an unintended and incredibly dark consequence: domestic violence cases rise amid confinement. Before lockdown measures were enacted, women’s welfare organizations warned that the rates of domestic violence would rise if victims were confined in homes with their abusers. The prediction unfortunately proved to be true.
The UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, Refuge, has reported a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day. The US, France, Spain and China too reported increases in cases of domestic abuse as victims are confined in spaces with their abusers. Domestic violence is certainly not just a women’s issue, but women are victims of domestic violence at significantly higher rates than men. According to the CDC, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will experience physical violence by their intimate partner at some point during their lifetimes.
COMBATING domestic violence through financial independence
Economic disempowerment is often closely linked to or part and parcel of domestic violence. Abusive partners keep their victims under their control by controlling their finances.
Financial literacy, and the financial independence that follows, is one of the strongest tools to combat domestic violence. Economically secure families are less likely to have domestic violence incidences. Services that allow women to escape this financial control will also help them escape domestic abuse. If victims can break free of their perpetrators financially, they leave their abusers. They are also less likely to return to the abusive relationship.
How investors can help combat domestic violence
Investments into financial literacy services for women is one way that sustainable investors can aid the long-term economic and social equality for women all over the world. In the UK, Emilie Bellet, a former Lehman Brothers executive, runs Vestpod, a digital platform to educate women about personal finances. In South Africa, an initiative that increased access to microfinancing for women entrepreneurs and paired it with training on gender norms and health successfully decreased incidences of intimate partner violence over just two years.
Gender Lens Investing
Sustainable investors can also help by using their purse strings to push for policy reforms that protect women. This is already happening as gender lens investors take into account specific gender patterns in the countries that they invest in. As a FirstPost article points out, investors would look for “for example, levels of domestic violence, maternal mortality rates, gender wage disparities, girls’ access to education, and women’s labor force participation.” This is not to say that they avoid investing in places that are high-risk for women, as this would just harm women more. Instead, they focus on investing in companies that reduce these risks, adjust interest rates for these risks, and work with the government to implement public programs and enact laws that protect and empower their female populations.
One example of a fund that does this is Rethink Impact, a fund that invests in “female leaders using technology to solve the world’s biggest problems.” One of their investments is Werk, a people analytics platform that encourages flexible working hours. It is a known fact that women tend to take on a larger share of unpaid domestic labor, and a company like that helps create flexible work environments contributes to closing that gap.
By and For Women
Another, perhaps more indirect way, that sustainable investors can contribute to ending domestic violence is by investing in companies founded by women. In addition, sustainable investors can invest in companies making products and services that improve access to healthcare and education, both of which are indicators linked to increased financial independence.
Companies as wide ranging as period products like Binti Period to digital wallets like PayTM can play a role in financial inclusion for women. As women have more control over their bodies and their money, they are more likely to go to work, stay in school and have the financial independence to leave an abuser. As an Australian legislator wrote in The Guardian, “Whether it be as complicated as a family trust or a self-managed super fund, or something as simple as a bank account or credit card, it is imperative that women can confidently navigate the financial arrangements that abusive partners may use to control them.” This can mean investing in products and services that give women the information, ability and resources to do so.