Understanding Economic Violence within the Agriculture and Market Systems Development Sector
Dr. Jenn Williamson, Feed the Future Advancing Women’s Empowerment (AWE) gender and agriculture systems advisor and vice president, gender and social inclusion at ACDI/VOCA, explains how economic violence, as a type of gender-based violence (GBV), presents within the agricultural and market systems development (MSD) sector. Most work on GBV has focused on other types of violence, but economic violence should not be overlooked, she explains.
AWE recently published the “Toolkit to Address Gender-based Violence in Agriculture and Market Systems Development,” which highlights economic violence. This sparked questions from early toolkit users, which we sought to answer here.
The social and economic costs of GBV have been well documented, and this issue is receiving increasing attention in the agriculture and MSD sector. Preventing, mitigating and responding to GBV is essential for ensuring that women and other at-risk individuals — such as sexual and gender minorities — can fully participate in and benefit from agriculture and MSD activities. Further, agriculture and MSD programs have the potential to exacerbate GBV because they create opportunities to shift power dynamics and social norms — by increasing incomes, access to finance, information, resources and networks — which means programs must anticipate potential risks to avoid backlash or unintended harm.
Efforts to understand and address GBV have largely focused on physical, psychological and sexual violence, as well as sexual coercion, exploitation and abuse. However, economic violence or abuse is a form of GBV, which is less well-studied, but has particular relevance to agriculture and MSD programming.
For many agriculture and MSD implementers, economic violence may be less visible because of its complexities, or it may be visible but not recognized as economic violence since the concept is less known — e.g., men taking over women’s crops or agribusinesses once they become profitable. Nevertheless, these programs are well-positioned to understand and address this issue as part of their efforts to advance inclusive agriculture and market systems.
What is economic violence?
Economic violence or abuse is a type of violence in which an abuser exerts control over another person by controlling that person’s ability to acquire, use and maintain economic resources. Economic violence threatens an individual’s economic security and potential for self-sufficiency. A direct impact of economic violence is to make the person who experiences violence (also known as the survivor), economically dependent on the person who perpetuates violence (also known as the perpetrator).
While patriarchal systems and gendered social norms often create situations in which women or other vulnerable groups are less likely to access or control economic resources, the key differentiator in economic violence is the use of economic assets or means to control the other person, creating economic dependency in order to maintain the relationship and power imbalance. Abusers who exert economic violence often exacerbate or exploit social inequalities and power dynamics to further dominate and limit the agency of the person they seek to control.
Though economic violence may or may not involve physical violence, there are associated physical and psychological impacts of being subject to this abuse. A 2018 study of economic violence against female microentrepreneurs in Peru demonstrated a strong correlation between suffering economic violence and being a victim of other types of violence, including psychological, physical or sexual, with the highest correlation to serious physical violence.
This type of abuse is widely considered a form of intimate partner violence — violence committed by a current or former intimate partner, commonly between spouses. However, economic violence can be perpetrated between family members, such as a mother-in-law toward a daughter-in-law, as well as by caregivers or heads of household toward other household members, such as youth, sexual and gender minorities (i.e., LGBTQI+), and people with disabilities.
What does economic violence look like?
Economic violence involves a range of tactics and behaviors that are intended to dominate a person through the control of their access to and use of economic resources. These behaviors can be categorized into three groups: 1) economic control, 2) economic sabotage and 3) economic exploitation.
Economic Control. Economic control behaviors are those that interfere with a person’s ability to acquire or use economic resources. It occurs when the person who perpetrates violence seeks to prevent the person who experiences violence from having access to or knowledge of finances, or from having financial decision-making power.
“He doesn’t give me money because he thinks I don’t do any work to support him even though I work on his farm and also take care of the children.” — Female Farmer, Ghana
Examples of these behaviors, particularly in an agriculture or MSD context, include:
- Preventing a person from acquiring income or assets, such as by demanding that payments, income or disbursements be made to the abuser and not the person who earned it.
- Refusing to share income generated by mutual labor, such as selling produce from a “family” farm in which both partners labor, but denying the survivor access to the proceeds.
- Inhibiting a person’s efforts to engage in activities, like training or education, aimed at increasing their marketability in the labor force or their ability to strengthen their productive skills.
- Preventing a person from setting up or accessing a bank account or a secure way to manage financial resources, such as refusing to allow use of a mobile phone to access banking apps.
- Refusal to allow a person to put assets in their name, such as business contracts, business licenses, deeds on houses, titles on land or other assets.
- Denying, restricting or closely monitoring a person’s use of shared assets, such as food, shelter or household necessities. It should be noted that the real or perceived threat of expelling someone from the household is a form of economic violence because the abuser exerts control over the individual through the threat of removal of shelter and economic support — this form of violence is commonly experienced by LGBTQI+ individuals who live openly or transgress social boundaries.
Economic Sabotage. Economic sabotage behaviors are those that undermine a person’s efforts to obtain or maintain employment or engage in economic activities. Examples of these behaviors, particularly in an agriculture or MSD context, include:
- Refusal to support productive activities outside of the household or abuser’s production.
- Forbidding, discouraging or actively interfering with efforts to find employment or engage in income-generating activities outside the home.
- Harassing the survivor at work or in public spaces while engaging in income-generating activities (i.e., markets, shops and other places of business); harassing co-workers, customers, suppliers, employees, contractors or other people with whom the survivor interacts to conduct business.
- Deliberately causing the survivor to miss work or to be unable to engage in income-generating activities.
- Interfering with receipt of support, such as grants, government support, disability support, public assistance, educational assistance or other forms of aid.
Economic Exploitation. Economic exploitation behaviors are those that intentionally deplete existing financial resources, generating debt or destroying credit.
“I remember once when he seized my money given to him by a customer. When I questioned him about it, he slapped me. If you take my money and all you do is to beat me up when I ask for it, then what else can I say? Because of this, I keep borrowing all the time and accumulating debt.” — Female Farmer, Ghana
Examples of these behaviors, particularly in an agriculture or MSD context, include:
- Taking cash or withdrawing funds from the survivor’s bank account, without permission.
- Demanding that income be put into a shared account so that the abuser can spend it freely.
- Refusing to pay bills or running up debts, with the intention that the survivor will have to cover the unpaid debts.
- Taking out loans or lines of credit in the survivor’s name.
- Insisting that the survivor access loans or credit under their name, but appropriate the funds for the abuser’s use while the survivor is responsible for paying back the loan.
- Damaging or stealing the survivor’s possessions, including shared assets.
In the next blog post, we will explore the relevance of economic violence and why agriculture and MSD programs should consider it in their programming in order to do no harm.