BY MPHO KUHLMANN
In Botswana it is almost an article of faith that the man should be the family bread winner. Women have been socialized to be dependants whose wishes are to land a rich husband and be stay at home kept wives. Botswana women steeped in the “no romance without finance” culture maintain that they would never be seen with a “broke a#s unprintable phrase that rhymes with mother father and insist that a suitor must have “The three Cs” before he can qualify for a romantic relationship: Car, cash and cellular phone.
Men on the other hand are hard wired to be providers and naturally feel emasculated when they depend on their wives to bring home the bacon. When the woman out earns her husband, these social norms are stood on their head, shaking the very foundation of the union. And therein lays the root of financial or economic abuse.
Kgomotso Jongman, an independent social worker in Gaborone says the first thing we need to understand is the idea behind socialization, how the man is said to be the head and the women is to submit. “ We need to understand that when the head can’t provide, he starts to feel inadequate and his inadequacy leads to him getting physical and it begins the ripple effect; physical-emotional- economic abuse. The woman now starts to finance the man’s habits, he will always keep reminding her that he is the man of the house, hence the woman submitting and giving him financial power. It eventually leads to debt as he tricks/forces her into taking loans of which he doesn’t care because when the debt collectors call they call the woman. It is important to note that all forms of abuse are interconnected and we can’t really isolate one. Economic abuse is somewhat a taboo since people don’t really want to openly talk about it. It affects the victim in that it takes away their self esteem and self effort; one doesn’t put in effort at work anymore as they feel they are working for someone else. “
Financial abuse is an aspect of ‘coercive control’ ÔÇô a pattern of controlling, threatening and degrading behavior that restricts a victims’ freedom. Financial abuse can leave women with no money for basic essentials such as food and clothing. It can leave them without access to their own bank accounts, with no access to any independent income and with debts that have been built up by abusive partners set against their names. Even when a survivor has left the home, financial control can still be exerted by the abuser with regard to child maintenance. One of the most unconcealed forms of financial abuse is threatening to leave, once the partner levies such a threat, control is established since she knows without her partner, her daily needs won’t be met. She learns to stay in her lane and keep herself in line fearing that without her partner, she will be destitute with no place to go. A forced family is another such form of financial abuse; the woman is essentially pregnant every other year of the relationship, ensuring that she will never have the chance to return to work. Depending on her earning power, with the birth of each child, the cost of childcare makes it impossible to return to work. Her life’s work is to care for children and her partner while never knowing what it is like to taste financial freedom and independence. Ultimately, the woman in this relationship is dependent upon her partner for her survival.
Lorato Moalusi of Botswana Gender Based Violence Prevention & Support Centre says financial or economic abuse “is hardly talked about but it is very much present. It may manifest itself in many ways for example in a household where one partner withholds resources in the household for their benefit and doesn’t allow the other to use them. The effects of financial abuse can also impact on a survivor’s health and well-being, as they may be unable to access health care due to a lack of financial resources or the controlling behavior of an abuser. Mental health issues can also arise due to the financial abuse, particularly if the survivor is socially isolated or experiencing emotional or physical abuse. In 2017 alone we recorded 2250 cases, of these, 205 were financial abuse cases in which 168 were women and 37 were men.”
Financial abuse is one of those huge elephants in the room that no one wants to talk about. In cases where a partner or family member exerts excessive financial control, harm or exploitation of another, it is also difficult for victims to talk with friends, family or professionals. We rarely hear about financial abuse since it is often sly and wrapped up in the confines of an abusive relationship. Women in these relationships are often ashamed to speak of or even acknowledge because of the stigma associated with it. While other forms of abuse have rightly been scrutinized, reported and acted upon, financial abuse has remained somewhat hidden. Perhaps because it is seen as less extreme than domestic violence or sexual abuse. Or it is less obvious in a world of joint accounts and household bills. Perhaps less understood in a world where there is no dictionary definition or line drawn in the sand. But it is not uncommon. Women in financially abusive relationships are often forced to take career paths which keep them from succeeding and eventually becoming financially stable and independent in their own right. Many women in these situations are either stay at home moms or if they do work, it is part time with the explicit permission of their spouse. If this woman is lucky enough to be able to work full time in such a relationship, then her partner often sabotages her career/work life by forcing her to stay home or giving an ultimatum around quitting the job or ending the relationship. Money = power.
Thapelo Rrabogadi who works at Harvey World Travel in Gaborone says “financial abuse may begin subtly and progress over time. It may even look like love initially as abusers have the capacity to appear very charming and are masterful at manipulation. For example, the abuser may make statements such as, “I know you’re under a lot of stress right now so why don’t you just let me take care of the finances and I’ll give you money each week to take care of what you need.” Financial abuse is a common tactic used by abusers to gain power and control in a relationship. The forms of financial abuse may be subtle or overt but in general, include tactics to conceal information, limit the victim’s access to assets, or reduce accessibility to the family finances. Financial abuse, while less commonly understood, is one of the most powerful methods of keeping a survivor trapped in an abusive relationship and deeply diminishes the victim’s ability to stay safe after leaving an abusive partner.”
Gopolang Jacob, a teller at Fair Price Building Material and Hardware in Gaborone says, “economic abuse is designed to reinforce or create economic instability. In this way it limits women’s choices and ability to access safety. Lack of access to economic resources can result in women staying with abusive men for longer and experiencing more harm as a result. Financial abuse commonly occurs in romantic relationships. It can occur throughout a relationship, or may begin after separation through things like property settlement and child support processes. Like other forms of intimate partner violence, financial abuse is highly gendered, with the majority of victims being women. However, financial abuse can occur in any relationship, regardless of the gender of the people in that relationship.”