BY Dame Julie Okah Donli
I have a passion for creating awareness and illuminating grey areas of human endeavor because I believe that when people are equipped with the appropriate knowledge, they are in a better position to ensure that their rights and dignity as humans are protected. I also believe it when the Bible says that people perish for lack of knowledge because this is actually very true.
Most people I have interacted with have certain knowledge about what an abuse is but when you dig deeper, you realize that people do not even know that there are many forms of abuse that we often overlook or tag normal human behaviour.
Recently, I told someone who visited us at Roost Foundation that as an adult, you can be economically abused and the person gave me a look that suggested utter shock and disbelief and this is what happens regularly when you take it as a duty to educate the people on various forms of abuse.
Before going into the definition of economic abuse, let me state unequivocally here that it is true that money is not everything but everything involves money and so economic abuse is one of the worst things that can happen to anybody because it dehumanizes the victim and makes them worthless and powerless.
Economic abuse is a form of abuse whereby perpetrators control, restrict, mismanage, sabotage and exploit their partner’s income and sources of income and other resources, such as accommodation, food, clothing, transportation, access to medical care, etc.
Controlling and restricting resources could happen in the form of controlling when and how money is spent. Yes, you could be the bread winner of the home, the one who goes all out to make the money yet you have no say on how money should be spent and what it should be spent on. I have seen cases where a woman is forced to relinquish her complete salary to her husband who then decides on the amount to give her for the monthly upkeep of the family. So, the man can actually refuse to give her any money whenever they have a misunderstanding. In some cases, people work hard for their money only to have their partners dictate to them what to buy. For instance, a wife forces her husband to go to the office with lunch pack from home and then forbids him from buying anything to eat at the office even though she knows he cannot stand cold meals.
Economic abuse also takes the form of insisting that all economic assets are in the name of your partner. For instance, a woman wants to build a house and her husband backed by his family members insists that she must buy the land and the house in his name. Refusing to do this is tagged an act of insubordination and the woman is threatened with a divorce. So, she is left with the option of subjecting herself to economic slavery or risk losing her home and access to her children.
Spending of family funds without the permission of other family members is also a form of economic abuse especially when the funds are kept in joint accounts and in this case, some women are also guilty. For instance, a family operates a joint account where they save against the school fees of their children/ward, rent, upkeep, etc. and the wife decides to withdraw the money without the consent of her husband just to fund her elaborate lifestyle and to spend on non-profiting ventures.
As soon as the man raises any alarm on her indiscriminate spending, she resolves to verbal abuse and because the society has conditioned men to endure all forms of abuse without speaking up, the man is has no choice but to endure. Under this category, we also have family members who spend their relations money without their permission. For instance, a relation who lives outside the shores of the country decides to send money to his uncle, aunty or cousin to build a house and rather than build a house, such a family member decides to squander the money or use it for personal expenses. When eventually the owner returns to the country, he is traumatized and shocked at the turn of events but then, it may too late.
In some families, only the man who is usually considered as the head of the family is permitted to make financial decisions, a woman no matter how educated or qualified is expected to allow her husband take the lead when it comes to the issue of finance. This explains why some men can give their women meagre sums as family monthly upkeep and when the woman complains about how insufficient the money is because of the high cost of goods and services, they belittle her, abuse her verbally and even in some cases physically.
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People who also prevent, restrict or stop their partners from working are also indulging in economic abuse. A man knows that his wife is penniless yet he won’t allow her work even when she has the qualification and skill to get a job or set up a business. Some people go as far as writing to their partner’s employee to have them sacked. They block every source of income of their partners and even forbid their partners from accepting financial assistance from friends and family members. They do this because they understand the power of a financial independent man or woman and so they use that which you need most to enforce your loyalty.
When men and women refuse to take up their financial responsibilities when they can afford it, it becomes a form of emotional abuse. Same thing applies to parents who refuse to properly cater for their children, refuse them good food, school fees and rather choose to spend the money on alcohol and frivolities while their children are left with the pain of seeing their parents spending money and not spending on them. These children may end up with inferiority complex because they feel that they are not good enough and that is the reason why their parents would not spend on them.
Economic abuse is one form of abuse that has devastating effects on its victims. People have fallen into the trap of different forms of trafficking and have resorted to crime because of one form of economic abuse or the other, it is important therefore, that we make efforts to stop these form of abuse and that we do not directly or indirectly provide the enabling environment for this abuse to thrive and destroy us mentally.