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Economic independence and security

Social Change

In our last blog, we talked about the importance of finding support for women leaving an abusive partner and the multiple barriers they face in leaving; today we’ll talk about another barrier - financial security.

Carla, a program participant with YWCA Single Mother’s Support Services remembers her ordeal.

“We were living up north when the abuse started; initially it was mild but when I got pregnant it escalated; he choked me, broke my tooth, threw me on the ground.”

Emotional and financial abuse soon followed; Carla had to hand over her savings and couldn’t access their joint bank account.

Carla is not alone; according to Statistics Canada, over 20% of spousal abuse victims reported that they were denied information about or access to family income.  

You may ask yourself, why is this an issue? It’s an issue because controlling money and access to money is another way to have power over someone. The abuser’s goal is to ensure that his partner becomes financially dependent on him; creating financial instability and preventing her from leaving him.

It can be easy to spot signs of physical abuse but financial abuse can be more subtle.  

So what is financial abuse? How does it limit a woman from leaving an abusive relationship and what can we do about it?

Financial abuse can include:

  • Rigidly controlling family finances/not sharing decision making about family finances
  • Providing an allowance and closely monitoring what is bought
  • Refusing to provide money for essentials
  • Denying access to earnings or family income
  • Forbidding or restricting her ability to work or go to work
  • Not taking equal responsibility for child rearing and refusing to contribute to paying for childcare so that she can’t work
  • Sabotaging her employment
  • Denying information regarding the finances, such as the mortgage information, shared bank accounts or records
  • Not allowing women to have a bank account, a debit card or a credit card
  • Stealing from her or maxing out her credit card
  • Using her personal information to obtain credit, without her permission
  • Refusing to sponsor a spouse so that she is legally unable to work in Canada
  • Non-payment or irregular payment of child support post-separation

When a woman is thinking about leaving an abusive relationship, she often has to consider:

  • Does she have enough money to find alternate accommodation?
  • Will she be able to feed herself and her children?
  • Who will care for her children if she’s at school or working? How will she pay for necessary medication?
  • What transportation will she have access to?

These are the questions that often trap a woman in an abusive relationship or cause her to return. Even when a woman has left a violent partner, she may experience escalating financial abuse. The abuser will often drain assets or accounts, leaving her further trapped in poverty, and refuse to pay court ordered child support or spousal support regularly, or at all.

Financial independence and security is necessary to eliminate violence against women. Studies show that as the gender pay gap narrows violence against women by their intimate partner decreases. However, at the current speed, it will take women another 75 years to achieve pay equity.

How can we help?

We live in a society where talking about money can be uncomfortable. But financial independence is a critical component of living independently, with choices, and free from violence. Start early by talking to kids about financial literally.

In addition, adequate access to social and financial supports like child care, housing, education, employment and other opportunities are what enable women in abusive situations to  make it on their own. They need hope and support so they can plan for their future, and the future of their children, outside an abusive relationship. And only through our collective efforts we can help women achieve their economic independence, thus speeding up the pace of women’s equality.  

At the YWCA, we work to ensure that single mothers have appropriate housing as they and their children are at great risk of living in unsafe and unhealthy environments. We operate two second-stage transition houses for women who have experienced abuse; we also operate five long-term safe, affordable housing communities for single mothers; we are seeing a longer waiting lists for all our housing and with limited rental stocks suitable for families the need for safe, affordable family housing has never been greater. Support the YWCA in advocating for appropriate housing, gender equality and living free from violence.


Why doesn’t she just leave? It’s not that easy.

YWCA Week without Violence (October 13-19) is a national week of violence prevention. To learn more about #NotThatEasy visit our campaign page. Tomorrow, we will talk about safety - another barrier of leaving abusive relationships. So stay tuned.

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