Much deliberation has been accorded to analysing various forms of violence against women in Pakistan. However, economic abuse or violence is the least-studied type, as it is either grouped with emotional or mental abuse or plainly disregarded during research. Economic violence includes taking control of a woman’s capacity to attain, utilise, and maintain economic resources, thus endangering her financial security and the prospect of self-reliance. In Pakistan, it manifests in various forms. However, limited factual statistics are available to gauge the extent of economic violence against women in the country.
The first manifestation of economic violence is controlling their access to financial resources. In terms of attaining economic resources, the landscape seems largely rigged against women in Pakistan, including aspects such as the labour force participation ratio, unequal terms of employment, property rights and inheritance, and lack of access to finances for starting or scaling a business. Having accessibility and control of economic resources is fundamental to the foundation of ensuring economic justice. According to a study conducted by the Asian Development Bank, a considerable number of women in the country are eager to work. A major roadblock to their economic endeavours, which is outside the ambit of policy, is that women are dealt with restrictions on their physical mobility beyond their homes due to scarcity of safe transport, societal customs, and domestic obligations preventing them from having the time to pursue any economic endeavour. A meagre 25 per cent of the women in Pakistan become a part of the workforce. Even those who manage to enter the labour force are presented with unequal terms of employment. Per the Global Gender Gap Report 2022, women only receive 18 per cent of the country’s total labour income.
Another form of controlling access to economic resources is the discrimination that a large number of women face as they are deprived of their due share in their father’s and husband’s properties. Denying their due ancestral inheritance and scarce workforce participation leaves women monetarily dependent within a patriarchal family system. They usually have no choice other than to bear with lifelong economic violence. Families rationalise the denial of property share in inheritance to the female members in lieu of the expenditures sustained during their wedding ceremonies or for their dowries. The Supreme Court has dismissed such an approach, maintaining that such expenses have no relevance to the rightful share of daughters in their parents’ fortune. Per the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act, 2011, depriving women of their lawfully inherited property through “deceitful or illegal means” can cause up to 10 years of imprisonment with or without a fine of Rs1 million.
It may be deduced that the prevalence of economic abuse in Pakistan might have less to do with a lack of inclusive state policies and more with the societal acceptance of patriarchal attitudes and internalised misogyny of the masses.
The second major pathway of economic violence is maintaining control over their ability to utilise financial resources. Even those women who are a part of the labour force cannot garner sufficient economic autonomy or the capacity to make their own decisions. This is because most women in Pakistan’s labour force are concentrated in the informal sector. That is, they either work in homes or in the agricultural domain. Some researchers suggest that women working formal jobs are more susceptible to maintaining social and political freedom. Besides, in scenarios with intimate partner dynamics, another form of controlling women’s capacity to access and utilise economic resources exists, where women are forced to work. Other situations may include managing women’s income and other financial resources, including selling their assets without permission.
The third significant representation of gender-based economic violence is controlling the women’s capacity to maintain any economic resource. According to the 2021 figures of the State Bank of Pakistan, a mere 29 per cent of the women population in the country have a bank account. This is one of the lowest percentages globally, and such a gender-based discrepancy is detrimental to the economic development of the country. The lack of financial literacy and guard on physical mobility are the aggravating factors behind such economic abuse.
Policy and structural blind spots are also, at times, an impediment to alleviating female financial alienation. For instance, there is a greater propensity for women to be largely excluded from the government’s financial assistance programs since many of those schemes rely on mobile phone ownership and national ID possession. As drastically fewer women possess either of the amenities, women suffer financially despite the state’s resolve to reach out to the less privileged. Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program can be taken as an example in this regard.
Nonetheless, the legislative framework in the country tends to extend ample safeguards against economic abuse. The Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act, 2016, looks at violence from a broader lens and lists economic abuse as a form of violence and, thus, a punishable offence. Similar protection via legal frameworks exists in Balochistan (Act No. VII of 2014) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Act No. III of 2021). Though there are wide-ranging laws protecting women against economic violence, only a few women bring themselves to find and ask for a legal solution. It may be deduced that the prevalence of economic abuse in Pakistan might have less to do with a lack of inclusive state policies and more with the societal acceptance of patriarchal attitudes and internalised misogyny of the masses.
It is essential to allow equal avenues for all genders to access and pursue business and financial undertakings to ensure all-encompassing and feasible economic growth in Pakistan. To restrain economic abuse at the workplace, some improvements at the legislative and policy level may include equal pay legislation, workplace day-care services, and safe transport facility for the workplace. Moreover, regular assessments by concerned government departments regarding the observance of equity frameworks can bring change for the coming generations. Improving gender parity for economic prospects will facilitate socioeconomic progress for the country at large.
As economic violence is a multifaceted issue, there is a need for broader research on the ways, indicators, and expressions of economic violence. Primarily in Pakistan, tackling this problem will need multi-pronged strategies. The state can always begin with awareness campaigns, making individuals and communities conscious of their internalised biases and normalised abuse. Besides, to efficaciously execute the laws, educating women about legislative safeguards against economic abuse and easing their implementation procedures is vital to ensure the victims reach out for legal help.