To tackle violence against women, we need to alleviate poverty

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Bincheng Mao, Global Shaper, New York Hub

  • Poverty increases women’s vulnerability to violence, from domestic abuse to people trafficking.
  • Employment opportunities, paid leave and access to legal advice can help keep women safe.
  • Climate change makes women more vulnerable – they need an enhanced role in policy-making.

To end violence against women, the international community needs to identify its contributing factors. And poverty, while often overlooked, is an important one. Low-income women and girls have limited options when it comes to escaping domestic or intimate partner violence. They often cannot afford the legal or social resources that would enable them to leave a violent relationship. From seeking counsel to relocating to a shelter away from their partner, these measures often require both a significant amount of time and also financial means. And when women with limited means choose to spend time on these self-protective measures after encountering abuse, they could miss work and lose their source of income, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and vulnerability to violence.

Women and girls living in poverty are also more vulnerable to sexual exploitation such as human trafficking. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February, Ukrainian prosecutors have found traffickers preying on unemployed or lower-income Ukrainian women, especially those struggling to find work to support their children. Women in need of a source of income to raise their families are vulnerable to false economic incentives offered by traffickers. We have a moral duty to both hold perpetrators accountable and to support women economically.

The importance of employment opportunities and paid leave

Governments and civil society organizations can work together to provide customized job search assistance to refugees, especially female refugees. Research has consistently shown that gender may hinder a female refugee’s integration into their host society. And refugees often end up in a foreign country where they have practically no background knowledge or recognized credentials, not to mention access to social networks that can them to access employment opportunities.

Customized job search assistance can help tackle these challenges. Civil society organizations, working alongside local authorities, can help validate foreign qualifications that a refugee may hold, provide interview coaching, and contextualize existing opportunities in the labor market. According to a recent research report released by the University of Oxford, intensive job search coaching in Sweden improved refugee employment rates by 43 percent.

Another way to protect working women from the cycle of poverty and violence is to introduce paid domestic violence leave into the labor market. Working women are often faced with the dilemma of whether to risk their jobs and incomes to escape when faced with domestic violence. Paid family and domestic violence leave programs, through which people are given a few days a year to take paid time off if they experience domestic violence, can be a great help to low-income women. They can take the time to have medical treatment, or to seek out local women’s organizations and legal advice.

Civil society organizations can help by establishing a pilot program of paid domestic violence leave with local businesses, which will help raise social awareness and government interest. Australia’s paid domestic violence leave, which was adopted nationally earlier this year, began as a small-scale pilot program a decade ago. A paid leave program, implemented on a local scale and funded by civil society groups, can show the wider society how it can significantly improve women’s safety.

Gender equality and environmental protection

The link between gender equality and environmental protection, including climate action, is becoming increasingly visible as climate change intensifies. The principal investigator of the UN Climate Change Unit reported in 2020 that women have been living “in the shadow of climate change” for too long. Women make up a majority of poor communities that are highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihoods. And when these resources are lost to sea level rise, extreme weather events and pollution, women are disproportionately affected.

To lift women out of poverty, civil society organizations need to push for not only adequate treatment but also the further involvement of women in the process of developing environmental and climate policies. Non-profit organizations help policymakers identify communities affected by environmental injustice as well as female representatives from those communities. International non-governmental organizations can also help by convening a special event that gives women from low-income and at-risk backgrounds an opportunity to address the world and call for greater political commitment.


What’s the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent social and political unrest have created a profound sense of urgency for companies to actively work to tackle inequity.

The Forum’s work on Diversity, Equality, Inclusion and Social Justice is driven by the New Economy and Society Platform, which is focused on building prosperous, inclusive and just economies and societies. In addition to its work on economic growth, revival and transformation, work, wages and job creation, and education, skills and learning, the Platform takes an integrated and holistic approach to diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice, and aims to tackle exclusion, bias and discrimination related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and all other forms of human diversity.

The Platform produces data, standards and insights, such as the Global Gender Gap Report and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 4.0 Toolkit, and drives or supports action initiatives, such as Partnering for Racial Justice in Business, The Valuable 500 – Closing the Disability Inclusion Gap, Hardwiring Gender Parity in the Future of Work, Closing the Gender Gap Country Accelerators, the Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality, the Community of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officers and the Global Future Council on Equity and Social Justice.

Access to legal advice

One of the biggest obstacles facing low-income women in abusive relationships is the prohibitive cost of legal counsel. To address this issue, civil society organizations should coordinate with existing domestic violence response helplines to provide affordable legal resources for women in poverty. It is imperative that providers of pro bono legal services be linked to the national domestic violence reporting system to make it easier for low-income women to access the assistance they need. An increasing number of legal institutions and organizations are launching pro bono projects that offer representation for domestic violence survivors, and these projects can make an even larger impact if authorities can directly refer women who report violent incidents to these projects.

Violence against women in all its forms violates basic human rights and human decency. And poverty has been a key factor that fuels the rise in gender-based abuse. It is time for civil society organizations, legal experts, and authorities to work together to lift women out of pervasive poverty and break the cycle of violence that is harming women across the world.

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