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Economic Autonomy for Women
Ending violence against women is intertwined with securing economic autonomy for women in the pursuit of women's equality.
In order to leave a violent or threatening man, a woman must be able to conceive of how she will feed and house herself and her children. In order to resist sexual harassment in the workplace, a woman must be entitled to the protection of legislation that does not jeopardize her own job. Many women who call our rape crisis line report that as part of their coercive control, men will withhold money and access to the family bank accounts. This is especially true of women raising children. Such men will also prevent their wives from working for their own money, or they will refuse to pay child support for their children.
According to a recent report by frontline experts and researchers to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), B.C. has the highest overall rate of poverty in the country. Statistics Canada figures show that in 2006, poor people in British Columbia were living not just below the poverty line, but $7,700 below the poverty line (using Statistics Canada’s Low Income Cut-Off line). They are not just poor, they are very poor. B.C. also has the highest rate of child poverty in Canada at 18.8%, while in 2006, B.C. single mothers had a poverty rate of 35.7%. In the same year, single senior women in B.C. had a poverty rate of 20.4% (compared to 11.6% for single senior men). Nation-wide data show rates of poverty for Aboriginal women at 36%, for women of colour at 29%, for immigrant women at 23%, rising to 35% for those who arrived in Canada between 1991 and 2000, and for women with disabilities at 26% (BC CEDAW 2010).
When women lack the means of subsistence
When women lack the means of subsistence, women lose autonomy in their relations with men. We find ourselves stuck between 'choosing' between staying with a violent man who pays the rent, and leaving to face high housing costs and abysmal social assistance rates. Women who do leave are often pressured by economic reasons to stay in closer contact with violent men than they would otherwise choose. The man may be their only source of free childcare. He may offer monetary support in exchange for continued contact she does not desire, or which may endanger her and her children. She may have to return, despite his violence. Women may instead turn to 'survival sex' in prostitution, in order to buy groceries for themselves and their children. Women in these circumstances risk being discovered by government social services, with charges of welfare fraud or child apprehension likely.
When women have inadequate income, they are forced to live in squats, cars, and
other unsafe housing and are therefore more vulnerable to rape and sexual harassment.
Women receiving welfare are more likely to have their children apprehended, not because the children are mistreated, but because they cannot provide adequate housing and food.
When women have economic autonomy
Women who have adequate economic means have more choices. They can more clearly choose to leave a violent or threatening man, and are less likely to be pressed into prostitution. They can choose who cares for their children. Women can choose where to live, having more opportunity for physical security and comfort for their families. When women have economic autonomy, their basic human entitlements needs can be met, and women can realize their potential to fully participate in society. When women have economic autonomy, we can imagine and move toward equality.