The Importance of Financial Literacy for Survivors

July 2010 marks the beginning of Sakhi’s 5-week Financial Literacy workshop series for survivors of violence.  The impetus behind these workshops is the widespread economic abuse that our survivors face.  Financial abuse is defined as a tactic used to control relationships by preventing access to money or other financial resources.  Some documented tactics of financial abuse include controlling how money is spent, withholding money, withholding basic living resources like medication or food, not allowing a partner to work or earn money, not allowing a partner to know where bank accounts are held, or stealing a partner’s identity, money, credit, or property.  While these abuses are more subtle than outright physical abuse, they are all tactics that allow an abuser to inflict long-term damage on a survivor of domestic violence as they strip her of any independence and remove her ability to leave if she chooses to do so.

Ending abuse is often linked to leaving the abusive partner, but without being fully financially independent, a woman may be left financially devastated, facing challenges such as homelessness, unemployment and the inability to meet basic needs like food and transportation. (*1 – You can read more about these challenges at http://www.mylifetime.com/my-lifetime-commitment/endviolence/financial-abuse-can-keep-woman-captive-now-theres-help-so-she-can-break-fre)

Research shows that a woman who leaves her abusive partner is highly likely to face a drop in her standard of living to below the poverty line. (*2 – You can read more athttp://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst?docId=5002484341).

Sakhi’s Economic Empowerment program seeks to combat this reality.  A recent study confirmed that “along with personal safety needs, DV survivors who use shelter services rank housing and economic assistance among their primary service needs; 93% sought help with finding affordable housing, job training, transportation, education, and managing money.”  (*3 – You can read more athttp://new.vawnet.org/Assoc_Files_VAWnet/AR_EconomicStress.pdf).

These are precisely the types of services that Sakhi’s Economic Empowerment (EE) program currently provides,  working one on one with women to help them navigate complicated public assistance systems, helping them learn computer and English skills, and helping them create resumes and apply for jobs.

In the face of the recent global financial crisis, it is even more critical to provide economic empowerment resources and support to the women we serve.  For this reason, the workshops will cover topics such as basic financial planning and budgeting, the basics of banking, the importance of and different methods of saving, credit and credit repair, and how to get and manage loans.  The purpose of the workshops is to engage participants in activities to build tangible financial skills, and by working with financial concepts and ideas about their economic rights, survivors will learn to recognize and critically think about the multiple oppressions that they face, and gain self-esteem. This will empower them to work out the steps they need to take to gain control of their lives and lay a solid foundation for their financial independence.

Sakhi’s Economic Empowerment program starts with the premise that in addition to emotional support, women must be given the opportunity to become self-sufficient in order to effectively end a violent relationship and fulfill their potential as women.  Economic justice therefore is critical in making women aware of their fundamental rights, such as the right to education, housing, work, food, and health, and is both a way to prevent future violence as well as a way to promote women’s long-term independence.

The Financial literacy workshop series will also lay the foundation for the expansion of Sakhi’s Economic Empowerment program. After completing the 5-week series, survivors will be better equipped to take advantage of new programs and resources, such as Independent Development Accounts.  Sakhi, as an organization, is in the process of establishing relationships with local credit unions to enable banking opportunities for the women we serve.  We are building partnerships to facilitate small business creation.  We are also developing solutions to instances of financial abuse where our survivors are saddled with mortgages and credit card debt as a form of abuse and/or control, and facilitating more extensive financial planning.  We are also engaging with mothers about educational opportunities for their children in order to break intergenerational cycles of poverty.

As an organization, we see first-hand the increase in survivors asking for assistance with financial literacy.  The series of planned workshops will address some of the most pressing questions.  As women gain financial knowledge and skills and gain independence, they will be less vulnerable to violence and better positioned to fight against the abuse they face in their own lives as well as the abuse they see in our community.  We at Sakhi will work to facilitate this process and will continue to evaluate and develop our economic empowerment program to best serve the needs of our survivors and women in the South Asian community.