“It’s Like Being Trapped” — Economic Violence That Robs Women of Their Independence

ნატალია ავალიანი / მედია აპრილი

“I was making a list of groceries and that’s how I would go to the market or shop. Often my mother-in-law would come with me. I had calculated the money, how much I should spend on what. If I had my eye on extra vegetables or fruits at the market, I might not have had enough money, because he would give me as much as I needed in advance. After shopping, I accounted it to him again. I wrote on a piece of paper how much I paid for what,” Mariam, who, along with other types of violence, experienced economic violence from her husband, tells Aprili Media.

According to the National Survey on Violence Against Women, which was published in December 2023, half of the women living in Georgia have experiences like Mariam – every second woman has experienced at least one form of violence.

According to the same study, 10% of women experienced economic violence, and 8.4% had this experience while in a partnership.

The basis of economic violence is the patriarchal system, which is based on strictly defined gender roles – girls are taught from childhood that their main “mission” is to marry, raise children and take care of the family, while men are considered “money makers” and given priority when leaving property as an inheritance.

What Is Economic Violence?

Natalia Avaliani / Aprili Media

The law of Georgia on prevention of violence against women and/or family violence, protection and assistance to victims of violence defines economic violence as “an action that leads to the restriction of food, housing and other conditions of normal development, the exercise of property and labor rights, as well as the use of co-owned property and restriction of the right to dispose of the share owned”.

According to a study published in October 2023 by the organization Sapari, which was conducted in Adjara and Kakheti, the most common forms of economic violence are:

  • Interfering with work by harassing behavior such as frequent calls and unexpected visits to work and others;
  • Withholding money from the victim and preventing them from getting money to the extent that the victim becomes completely dependent on the abuser for food, clothing and shelter;
  • Prohibiting the victim from working or studying, or involving them in activities that make work or studying impossible;
  • Deliberately denying food, clothing, shelter, personal hygiene products or medicine;
  • Stealing money from the victim, fraudulently using and/or exploiting the victim’s money, assets or financial resources for personal gain;
  • Questioning the victim’s justifications for spending money and punishing them by physical, sexual, or emotional abuse;
  • Stealing or destroying the victim’s personal property;
  • Banning the victim from owning a personal bank account;
  • Non-payment of alimony determined by the court;
  • Forcing the victim to take out credit, then ruining their credit history and destroying their ability to get credit in the future.

Economic violence against Mariam started soon after the marriage. She remembers that she could not attend the university steadily in the first year, then she gave birth to a child and had to drop out of the last year.

“He tried to control everything. He wanted me to depend on him. He was different among people, he had a good name. The man who others knew and the one we knew in the family was different like night and day”, Mariam tells us and says, then she didn’t even think about working as she was raising a child, but he couldn’t bear it if she did, because he didn’t like it when she contacted people without him.

If she wanted to buy something, even personal items, she had to agree with her ex-husband, and then she had to inform him about the amount spent on each purchase.

“Back then I thought it was normal, because many women around me lived like that. Now I think differently — everyone needs a job and their income. It’s hard to be dependent on someone else. I was a young girl. If I really liked something, why should I have asked my husband to buy it for me?” says Mariam.

Another one of our respondents, which we will call Lia, tells us that her husband, who was an adult, “abducted” her from the yard of the university when she was still a minor. The economic violence against her started with the prohibition of studying and working. It was not acceptable for Lia’s husband, mother-in-law and father-in-law that she should continue her studies, but Lia’s parents tried to give their children an education since childhood. It is significant that, according to Sapari’s research, there is a medium-strength correlation between economic violence by a partner and other family members. In most cases, the greatest share of oppression falls on the husband’s/partner’s parents, compared to other family members .

“It’s like being trapped. You are young, you have no experience. When you go to someone else’s house, it’s like they are attacking a foreign body, that’s what happens there,” says Lia, and tells us that she didn’t want to go to the university where they couldn’t protect her and let the boy “abduct” her, but the opposition of her husband’s family made her bold and she still finished her studies.

As Lia recalls, the members of her husband’s family opposed her studies together, and she attributes the attacks to the fact that she had the opportunity to get an education, which her husband and other members of his family did not have.

“My ex-husband’s parents didn’t like that I could win against their son while talking to him. Because of this, they constantly attacked and I had to deal with many people instead of one. Some supported me, but in general they abused me. With time, you get used to this attitude and obey the rules and influences”, Lia tells us.

Economic violence, putting girls in an unequal position, often starts from childhood, when the family perceives the girl and boy child in different social roles and distributes the priorities in this way.

Partnership for Human Rights (PHR) lawyer Tamar Gabodze tells us that raising boys and girls with different values ​​puts girls at a disadvantage.

“Many girls understand from childhood that the family house is the inheritance of the male child, and she must “marry away”. Girls learn from childhood that priorities are divided like this – a girl’s main duty is family affairs, being a mother and a wife, while a man “needs” education more. Economic oppression starts here. Stereotypes put girls at a disadvantage, weaken girls and women, and make it difficult to achieve economic equality. If you don’t have equal experience while growing up, it’s much more difficult for you to be empowered. Often women are doomed to economic violence, because they are not given the opportunity to develop”, Tamar Gabodze tells us.

Economic violence is often a way to keep women from talking about other forms of violence. If a woman has no income, cannot provide material goods for her children or herself, and is financially dependent on her partner, she may be forced to stay in a violent environment, which has a strong negative impact on her psycho-emotional state.

The situation is particularly acute in the case of women with disabilities and women of ethnic minorities. This is true according to the national research on violence against women and the research on economic violence conducted by SaPari in Kakheti and Adjara regions.

A disabled woman participating in the research on violence against women notes that there may be cases of others spending her pension, when the woman is not given the opportunity to dispose of the money, and as a result, she “lives in the role of a guest, like a favor”. A woman representing an ethnic minority notes that a woman is not given the opportunity to continue her education independently: “There are certain exceptions, but it is true, a woman does not have the right to go anywhere alone, depending on the profession, some may argue that you cannot work in a certain profession.”

Lia is the mother of a disabled person. As she says, the father took full control of the pension, despite the fact that the mother had to take care of her child’s needs.

“He said, why is the pension paid to the mother, what about the father, is he not a parent? I never received my son’s pension,” Tamar recalls.

Among the additional circumstances that put women in an even more vulnerable position, an economically difficult family situation is particularly important. According to the Violence Against Women Survey, approximately two out of five women (45.5%) living in households with very poor economic conditions have experienced violence from their partner in their lifetime. This is almost double the corresponding rate among women who described their household’s economic situation as average or good.

Co-author of the Sapari study, Larisa Pataraia, tells us that economic violence is a very acute form of oppression, although awareness of its other forms is higher.

“There is very little written, researched and talked about economic violence,” she notes.

Perhaps, it is due to the lack of awareness that the results of the Sapari study have been shown — every fifth woman is unable to identify various forms of economic violence.

“Economic violence is a very powerful mechanism of control and has many forms. From it, we get many impoverished woman who has been robbed of her independence and basically has no chance of escaping this situation. Research shows that economic violence is of repetitive nature and extremely weakening in the long run. Our research also revealed that women who are victims of economic violence experience other forms of violence, both from their partner/husband and from other family members,” Larisa tells us.

Intersection of Economic Violence with Other Types of Violence

“He controlled me in every way. I was in terror. I only went shopping alone, and it was because we were a family and most often we needed to buy products. When I wanted to call my mother and go to her, he even fought with me because of that and hit me, saying I shouldn’t be there all the time,” Mariam tells us.

Economic violence usually does not manifest itself separately in people’s lives. It is intertwined with physical, sexual or other types of violence.

Clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, Tamar Gogoladze, says that economic and psychological violence are mostly entertwined. According to her explanation, in this way the abuser tries to convince the victim that she does not need economic independence, does not deserve it or cannot handle similar issues on his own. And a person who is deprived of the disposal of economic issues, in time actually loses important skills and the hope of re-acquiring them.

“As a result of violence, the victim’s image of herself changes significantly, becomes ugly. As a result of long-term economic and psychological violence, the victim may even want to get out of the relationship, but no longer have faith in herself, may think that she cannot do anything on her own and cannot survive,” says Tamar.

The respondent of Aprili Media, Mariam, notes that she was mostly worried about physical and sexual violence, because she could not identify economic violence at that time. Also, she was ashamed to publicly admit that she had experienced oppression.

“Everything could be a reason for him to hit me. There was a case, when I went to the store and he said it was because I was meeting someone, when I came back from the neighborhood store in 10 minutes. The mother-in-law saw this and tried to help me, but she couldn’t always intervene, she couldn’t come into the bedroom and tell him to leave me alone. Neighbors, acquaintances were crazy about my ex-husband, they are still like that. No one knows what he is really like until he is alone with his family members and reveals the aggression he has”, Mariam tells us.

According to Tamar Gogoladze, the norms in the society are an unshakable truth for many. Therefore, some people think that they must obey it, while others use such unshakable norms to manipulate other people. The psychotherapist points out that manipulation can be found in all areas and at all levels of relationships – it is also in the family.

“Any cultural norms and social expectations based on inequality are very good tools for people with manipulative tendencies. They constantly try to use other people according to their own interests with the help of similar means and ignore the needs and rights of these people,” says Tamar.

According to the National Survey on Violence Against Women, physical and/or sexual violence against women has a significant economic impact:

  • 23.6% claim to have lost faith in their own abilities;
  • 18% could not concentrate at work;
  • 4.5% say that violence prevented them from working;
  • 2.9% of women said that as a result of violence they could not work or had to take time off from work;
  • And 1.6% said that their husband/partner made them stop working.

“In the beginning, in the first stages, there is always regret on his part. Apologizing, softening in the presence of others and asking for forgiveness. This is followed by promises that this will not be the case again and that things will change, but of course nothing changes. On the contrary, he was even more irritable and aggressive. It was pointless to talk to him and try to clarify things. If he was apologizing at first, then I became guilty. There were such phrases as, you are so ugly, what do you even look like, it’s your fault that this is happening”, — Lia.

Results of Economic Violence

Besides the immediate damaging effects that economic violence brings, it also leaves a long-term mark on women’s lives. In particular, it may be related to the creation of psychological prejudices and fears in women’s future life, as well as greater vulnerability to violence in adulthood.

This is confirmed by the national survey of violence against women. In particular, those women who witnessed violence against their mother in childhood are more vulnerable to economic violence: 30.4% of those who witnessed it experienced economic violence, while 6.3% of those who did not witness it.

However, 16.8% of women who have experienced economic violence from a partner say that they are afraid of their current or last partner. 26.5% were able to leave the feeling of fear behind.

Tamar Gogoladze talks about the long-term consequences of economic violence that women have to deal with. According to Tamar, women are forced to regain financial management skills, but it is more important to believe in themselves that they will be able to use such skills again.

“The feeling of helplessness is the most depressing thing for a person and completely deprives them of the motivation of autonomy, which can lead to severe complications in terms of mental health, acute depressive episodes, suicidal tendencies, and so on. When you are in a difficult life situation and you are deprived of the belief that you will be able to deal with it, there seems to be no way out. Fortunately, there are organizations in our society that support women in vulnerable situations and help them acquire the necessary skills,” says Tamar.

According to the psychotherapists explanation, the abuser’s attempt to lose self-esteem plays an important role in any violence, since it is important for people how they are perceived by others.

“My husband prevented me from things when money was needed. When people from my university went to a restaurant, I could not go, neither did he give me a deposit, nor money for the trip. For exactly one week, I begged her to buy plasticine for the child”, – an excerpt from the in-depth interviews of the National Survey on Violence against Women.

“When the children needed the simplest things and I talked about it, he hit me. Either school is starting, or they have no shoes. I was not allowed to go out, to work, to do something”, – an excerpt from the in-depth interviews of the National Survey of Violence against Women.

It is also important to focus on how violence affects those who are not directly affected, but who are witnesses. In many cases, children appear as witnesses, since they not only have to see the parents’ conflict, but also participate in order to defuse the situation as much as they can.

Women talk about the effects that cases of violence had on their children — harmful effects manifested in fear and nervousness (48.9%), anxiety, anger and character problems (31.2%), manifestations of aggressive behavior (13.4%) and others.

It was the impact of his abuse on her children that finally got Lia decide to leave her husband. She remembers that her ex-husband, who was in a state of inebriation, was constantly aggressive and fought until the morning, because of which the children had to go to school sleepless and stressed.

“The feelings that my son could not express at home, he showed elsewhere. At night, he worried, screamed, cried. The child was sick. He had to get up at 8 to go to school and at 5 in the morning his father was screaming,” Lia recalls.

It was after one of the next fights that Lia finally decided that she should divorce her husband. It was a thoughtful decision, which Lia began to implement from the second day. The first thing she did was cancel the power of attorney for her son’s pension to her ex-husband, and then she talked to her children and explained that she was going to separate from their father.

The separation process was noisy and traumatic. The intervention of the police became necessary. According to Lia, all the neighbors heard about it, but no one tried to help.

“He kicked the door and even knocked it down. My son ran out of the room, he was so scared, but immediately turned around so that he would not leave his mother alone. When we went to the yard, and we were scared, because my ex-husband was threatening to kill me and at that time he had 3 guns, all the neighbors were hiding. Not only that, no gave me their phone to call the police. My son went back home and brought his phone so we could call,” Lia said.

As Sapari’s research says, economic violence is continuous and systematic in nature. Sometimes it also continues and affects women even after divorce or separation.

In another document of Sapari, “Determination and enforcement of alimony“, it is mentioned that the legislation of Georgia, both in terms of determining the amount of alimony and its enforcement, in terms of proposing practical standards and mechanisms, is extremely abstract.

After the divorce, Lia took full responsibility for the financial needs of her children and did not even even consider to make her ex-husband responsible for taking care of the children in the form of alimony. The man only paid the school fees of one child. As Lia tells us, he only recently started buying gifts for her children on holidays. The woman connects this change with the children becoming more conscious — in her opinion, the ex-husband knows for sure that now he cannot behave as before, because the children see and remember his behavior. In addition, the reputation that her ex-husband has among relatives and acquaintances is important, and which he cares about the most.

“Before the holidays, we had a ritual of going to the shops. This year too, my son wanted to go. On December 30, he came to our house and the visit ended in a fight. The child was waiting happily since morning, but he took only one child, who uses a wheelchair. The second child also went later, to help the brother be comfortable. They returned home in half an hour. He probably fought with the children on the way. It turned out that he left the children on the street, he didn’t even bring them home,” says Lia.

What Could the Solution Be?

Natalia Avaliani / Aprili Media

Mariam and Lia, who shared their experiences with us, went a long way and had to overcome many barriers before escaping from a violent environment.

The challenge for Lia was that the need to take care of her disabled son and the need to get a job to live independently while paying the rent was difficult to imagine. She tried many times to talk openly with her husband at that time. She tried to find solutions without ending the marriage, which did not work.

“I knew that I could not live on rent and I had to have my own house. Especially since I have a child who uses a wheelchair. It’s one thing when you work only for food, and it’s another thing when you have to pay the rent too,” — Lia.

Mariam tells us that since she had neither a diploma nor work experience, she would not be able to find a job in her profession. She tried to get a job clean houses several times, but her husband was also angry about that, “my wife should not go to cleaning”, he was ashamed of people and was even jealous. Finally, Mariam decided to emigrate.

“After many tears and many fights, I still decided that I had to go. There was another moment when I knew I wanted to divorce my husband, but I couldn’t. If I left, I could at least get away from him. I left the children in the hands of their grandmother, and it is true that no one can replace a mother, but I had no other choice,” Mariam tells us.

Emigration was not easy. Mariam recalls horrific episodes when the family she worked with forced her to sleep in the bathroom, yelled at her, emotionally abused her and did not pay her a proper salary. Her husband, who remained in Georgia, called her and asked for money.

“This money was not used for the children, nor for the house. I know that my ex-husband was seeing another woman. I wasn’t worried about it either, but I wanted my children to use my work,” she says, recalling that when the children grew up, she asked them to move in with her mother, which her partner did not object to, but when she stopped sending him money, he continued the economic violence.

“He went crazy, how could you not send it to me, I’m their father and I should know what you’re sending and what they will spend it on, he said. He was a control freak and wouldn’t let me go anywhere, but he let me go abroad because of money, and it was exactly money that was the last straw. That’s when I already knew that I would have to leave him as soon as I got back,” Mariam tells us.

And this is what happened. Mariam returned to Georgia several years ago, divorced her husband and lives with her children. According to her, it is important to explain to our children from childhood what violence is, including economic violence. She still does everything to provide her children with a good future.

“They know that if they fall into the hands of a man like their father, they can go back and start their lives again. I don’t want my girls to go through the same thing I did. I also have a boy, but I’m not going to leave the house or whatever I have only to him. I will divide my property equally”, says Mariam.

According to Lia, it is important for the state to support women, because many women want to make a decision to leave their abuser, but they cannot because of lack of housing, and parents of disabled children are in an especially difficult situation.

“Mothers of disabled children are on the verge of starvation. If you don’t have money for food and rent money is added to that, these amounts add up to a lot. I have often heard people saying, why you don’t walk away when you are abused? If women knew they had somewhere to go, they would not tolerate this violence. If they leave and have to pay rent, what should they do?”

As we mentioned in the beginning of the article, economic and other types of violence are the product of the patriarchal system, which puts men in a position of advantage and women in a position of disadvantage. Therefore, the ideal solution would be gender equality, a system that would give both women and men an equal starting point.

According to Larisa Pataraia, it is very important to raise awareness both at the individual and systemic level, because the basis of economic violence is patriarchal thinking, culture and existing stereotypes.

“If we want actual changes, the state, civil and private sectors have a lot of work to do in this direction. Education and raising awareness are the first steps to see the problem and understand what these problems are about,” explains Larisa.

PHR lawyer Tamar Gabodze tells us that the state should implement many activities in the direction of education, law enforcement, and gender equality.

“For example, from school age, children should have the basic information that will help them protect their rights. If you don’t have knowledge, it’s difficult to identify the problem, deal with it, and protect your rights”, – says Tamar and adds that in this situation, if a woman wants to get employment, development, education, she must first take care of children, family affairs, and the remaining time, that may not be enough, she should to use for development. And she is completely alone in this process.

According to Tamar Gabodze, supporting women victims is one of the important challenges for justice, because there are cases when women report violence to the police, but they face many challenges. It should also be taken into account that turning to the police is rarely done at the first instance — it can take years to find the strength in oneself to do so.

“The problem is the lack of sensitivity, shifting the burden of proof to the woman, the environment that encourages women to refuse to write a statement, women can be blamed or proven with personal examples that the fate of a woman is such, etc. When there is no proper support, it is much more difficult for women to turn to the law enforcement officers,” says Tamar.

Speaking about the role of the state, Larisa says that important issues should be resolved with a gender perspective and sensitivity, and there should be a political will to introduce the successful practices of other countries to us.

“Policy developers and implementers should be gender sensitive; gender budgeting should be done; Legislation should be changed and improved; Social support services should be strenghtened and women’s economic empowerment programs should be encouraged; Specific mechanisms that identify economic violence as a crime should be developed. It is important to create a prevention and victim support system”.

Tamar Gabodze remembers the case when the woman who experienced court violence was not believed, because she refrained from telling about the experience publicly. According to her, cases like this make women lose confidence in the justice system and force them to stay in a violent environment.

Abused women need both psychological support and economic empowerment to get back on their feet and live independently. Most of the time they don’t have a job, in many cases they don’t even have the experience and knowledge to have access to a decent employment opportunity, and in addition, they have to take care of their children.

“Economic empowerment of women is directly related to the increase in access to finance, the basis of which is the disposal of property in today’s reality. Although legally both men and women have equal rights today, existing harmful tradition often forces women to give up their property. This is also an example of economic violence. It is because of this that it is practically impossible for a woman to take a loan from a bank and start her own business, because in financial institutions personal property is considered to be the mechanism for securing a loan. It’s a closed circle, and to break it, you need to work in many directions at the same time”, Larisa tells us.

“Refusal of alimony is also a form of economic violence, although this is not the only challenge. Often, the court divides financial obligations equally, but mothers have to take care of the children, spend time with them, help them study, strengthen them, and at the same time take care of their financial security. This also leaves women in an unequal position”, says Tamar Gabodze.

Psychotherapist Tamar Gogoladze advises women who have decided to escape from a violent environment that it should be done as safely as possible for them, for which they will need the support of other people. And if women cannot find reliable and supportive people, they can turn to non-governmental organizations.

“Aggressors deliberately create feelings of shame, guilt and helplessness in you, and try not to give in to this manipulation. Remember that there will definitely be people on your way who, if you wish, will help you acquire the necessary skills. No one knows what you can do better than you. Just try to listen to your inner voice and separate it from the voices of other people who try to cover it up and silence it,” Tamar notes.

If you are being abused or have information about someone else being abused, you can contact the police.

In addition, you can download the 112 application and the Sapari application (Safe You) in your mobile phone. Both of them have an SOS button, as well as other important features that allow you to track your location, record the voice of the abuser, etc.