The link between women’s economic empowerment and violence against women and girls (VAWG) complex and nuanced. While some studies have found that when women gain employment, own property or land they have a lower incidence of VAWG, other studies show a higher, or no difference.
Key findings from this report include:
- Several studies have suggested that there is an inverted U-shaped relationship between economic empowerment and violence against women. Where women have consolidated (long-established) economic power, they tend to be at lower risk of violence. However, where women’s economic power is in transition, men are more likely to feel threatened by this, and there is often a (relatively) short-term spike in male violence against women.
- It is important to understand the context, particularly the fluidity of women’s roles and status within the local community. For example, Koenig et al’s (2003) comparison of two different settings in rural Bangladesh showed how increased female empowerment challenged long-established gender roles and led to conflict and domestic violence in a more conservative setting but in a less culturally conservative area women’s increased autonomy was not associated with an increased risk of violence.
- Joint household decision-making is associated with the lowest risk of violence. The risk of violence is highest when women dominate major household decisions.
- Women’s ownership of land and property is more strongly associated with a reduction in violence than employment as it acts as a “tangible exit option”, strengthening women’s fall-back position and therefore their bargaining power within marriage and acts as a deterrent to marital violence.
- Programmes aimed at empowering women economically should also consider how best to include violence prevention initiatives, particularly in culturally conservative settings – “Women who pioneer change within a community may be at greatest risk of violence” (Vyas and Watts, 2009, p.598).
Further research is needed to establish causality, particularly longitudinal studies. At what stage does the risk of violence decline? Is there a critical empowerment level whereby the benefits of economic empowerment interventions outweigh the risks, and societal norms about women’s employment change?