Improve engagement with women
The relationship between money and gender is complex and nuanced, and has real and lasting impacts on women’s lives. These gendered power dynamics are played out both through structural issues, such as the gender pay gap, as well as extremely personal and tangible experiences, such as financial abuse. Although widespread, financial abuse is often omitted from the larger discussions around family violence currently occurring in our society. WIRE’s new digital toolkit, Women & Money, is hoping to open conversations and support financial sector professionals to assist clients experiencing family violence and financial abuse.
Women in Australia earn an average of 14.6% less than men, and can expect to retire with 47% less superannuation. This gender disparity points to broader issues around the gendered relationship with money and the structural barriers that lead to financial inequality and economic disadvantage. Economic disadvantage of women, is compounded by these structural barriers when experiencing family violence.
Money is commonly used by perpertrators of family violence to control their victims and financial abuse is legally recognised as a form of family violence in most Australian states. According to research released last year 15.7% of women and 7.1% of men in Australia had experienced financial abuse in their lifetime. This kind of abuse often occurs between partners, known as intimate partner violence, but can also occur between other family members such as an adult child and their parent (known as elder abuse).
Financially abusive behaviours include controlling someone’s access to money, preventing someone from working or studying, forcing someone to take out joint loans or credit cards and withholding payments such as child support payments. Some forms of financial abuse may even seem like displays of affection, for example a family member offering to take control of the finances to take the pressure off another family member - this could be an attempt to control and limit their access to money.
A lack of access to money can prevent people from leaving a violent relationship, knowing that they will likely experience financial hardship and even homelessness. Even when a victim does leave, financial abuse is often perpetuated through the legal and child support systems. This may be through the withholding of payments, hiding of assets and/or drawing out the legal process to increase the victim’s legal fees.
Gabrielle*, a survivor of family violence describes her experiences of financial abuse:
“I experienced significant financial abuse as a part of family violence. This mainly occurred through the strategies designed by my ex’s lawyers to ensure that settlement was a long, drawn-out and expensive process.
The opposition had good success with their strategy, and achieved their ends by unleashing upon me a campaign of endless queries and requests, designed to make my legal bill grow in leaps and bounds. All I could do was stand helplessly by, watching my settlement money disappear before my eyes in legal fees and spiralling Australian Family Law Court costs.
During this time, my ex also had all of our bank accounts frozen, so any endeavours to provide for myself beyond a disability pension were thwarted as I did not have access to any of our family funds. I had been lumped with an entire mortgage, as well as a further supporting mortgage to cover an investment property, and was barely getting by.”
WIRE’s Women & Money digital toolkit is designed to help financial sector professionals support women clients experiencing family violence and bolster their understanding of the complex relationship between gender and money.
The financial services industry can provide crucial support to people experiencing family violence, particularly those who have limited access to money. It is likely that client-facing teams will encounter customers who are experiencing family violence. With the right support and training these teams can provide vital help to these vulnerable customers. Even small changes to policies and procedures can make a big difference to a survivor of family violence.
WIRE conducted a survey of Australian women to understand their experiences with financial services. One respondent, also a survivor of family violence, emphasised the importance of having family violence policies in place:
“I have been a victim of financial abuse and my bank has provided me with the same case officer to assist with my case over the last 12 months. Whilst the bank has a lot of improvements they can make in their policies and practices, it has been great to be able to deal with an empathetic, compassionate person who knows my circumstances and not have to constantly re-explain my story.”
Women & Money is available to professionals working in the finance sector, aiming to increase women’s financial wellbeing and engagement with financial services. The toolkit includes practical tips and referrals to relevant services that may be able to help women experiencing financial abuse, as well as easy to read information and resources around money and gender. It also provides information on how an organisation can implement policies that address the behavior, attitudes and structures that drive the acceptance and proliferation of family violence. This includes creating a more welcoming space for women customers and increasing gender equity within their own workplace.
Women & Money is offering free consultations to financial services professionals wanting to learn more about how they can embed practices and policies that fight family violence and gender inequality. To learn more about Women & Money and how your organisation can best utilise its resources contact WIRE.
The project is funded by the NAB Foundation and has been developed by WIRE with input from financial sector experts, academics, family violence experts and women with lived experience navigating financial services.
If you are experiencing family violence you can call the national sexual assault, domestic family violence counselling service on 1800 RESPECT. (1800 737 732)
WIRE is the only Victorian service that provides any woman or gender diverse person with information and support on any issue and has been specialising in women’s financial wellbeing for over 10 years. Find out more at: www.wire.org.au
*Please note the survivor’s name has been changed to protect their privacy.
Photos by Breeana Dunbar