One of the more pernicious ways women are controlled and abused is through access to money.
Whether that be restrictions on their work or study, limitations on their weekly “allowance” or dealing with their spending and accounts being monitored, far too many women have no financial independence and it is becoming a huge impediment for them being able to leave abusive relationships.
At the Bangle Foundation, we have recently seen a huge increase in women trying to leave abusive relationships and second guessing their ability to do so because they don’t financial means.
They have children they need to take care of but are not given their Centrelink benefits. The reasons are manifold: He says he’s the taxpayer so that belongs to him; he asserts that it’s “his gift” from the Government for the many years of struggle he’s put in. The list goes on. Many women I have spoken to going through this process, don’t even know about the Family Tax Benefit.
Women are being given an allowance to buy their personal things – around $150 a month while their male partners control the bills, the groceries and everything else. These women have no idea how much money their husbands make, or where that money goes. They have no choice in the food they eat, because he buys the groceries and she has to cook what is brought home. Some of these victims even have to plead for baby food and nappies because they can’t go to the shops to buy them themselves.
We’ve all heard about the issues around sexually transmitted debt and we see financial institutions trying to protect all parties who are signatories to a loan to be aware of their obligations and costs. However a woman who is committed to signing the document under duress will say and do anything to make sure the paperwork is signed.
I was once in a forum about financial abuse and one company lauded their initiative of ringing each signatory to a loan document the next day, and independently asking them if they signed the document without coercion. They basked in the forward-thinking of this “internal safety check” until I asked what they do if a woman comes back and says, ‘yes, he made me sign it yesterday and I couldn’t back out?’ Silence – they hadn’t thought of the contingency plan!
Of course this issue requires long-term structural reform and a whole of society approach. But for all women, my advice would be this: Everyone should have their own bank account for starters- individual not joint. For those working, your pay needs to go into your own bank account- individual not joint. For those not working, your benefits needs to go into your own bank account- individual not joint. For women having children, benefits for the maintenance of those children should be paid directly if you are primary care giver – into your own account not joint.
For those that then are in relationships and have joint expenses then share the payments from your own bank accounts, or open a joint account that you transfer money into of your own free will. I’m not saying this is going to solve the problem, but it will safeguard some. We can’t and we mustn’t allow men to control that aspect of our lives because the impacts can be devastating.
And if he’s unwilling to have that conversation about finances? That’s a red flag.
The Bangle Foundation is a support service for women, primarily from the Indian Subcontinent, experiencing domestic abuse. It is a voluntary and unfunded service.