Empowering Women and Girls: The Power of Social and Financial Education in Tackling Gender-Based Violence

Gender-based violence remains a pervasive and alarming issue that affects millions of women and girls worldwide. Gender-based violence occurs in different dimensions including physical violence, sexual violence, emotional violence, economic violence, and even cyber violence.  Globally, 30% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime with a global prevalence of intimate partner violence at 26% for ever married/partnered women. In Africa, prevalence estimates for intimate partner violence remain higher than the global estimate at 33%.

Several factors especially negative social and gender norms are the chief perpetrators of gender-based violence. Societal norms and stereotypes often restrict women and girls, limiting their access to both formal and informal education. This lack of education can trap women and girls in cycles of poverty and dependency, making them more vulnerable to multiple and intersecting forms of violence.

Gender-based violence is also a power issue as it is fundamentally tied to unequal distribution and abuse of power. Women and girls are mostly affected by gender-based violence, reflecting power imbalance in society based on gender, with men wielding more power. Again, this is linked to societal norms that continue to subjugate women’s roles in society, thereby fuelling these power imbalances. This is why when women’s and girls’ rights have been violated, society is quick to blame them. When a woman is physically violated by an intimate partner, it is justified with comments like “She must have said something to upset him”, or “Women talk too much” and she is advised to be quieter.  If it is a case of sexual violence, survivors are blamed and shamed and questions such as “What was she wearing?” “Why didn’t she scream?” are asked, thereby pushing the burden from the perpetrator to the survivor and giving more power to the perpetrator. The sad reality is that power imbalance and its accompanying consequence- violence has been accepted by both women and men due to the internalisation of these practices. This is evidenced by the reluctance to report incidences of violence or challenge negative social and gender norms. For instance, In Nigeria, 55% of women who have experienced physical or sexual violence have never sought help to stop the violence.

Addressing Gender-Based Violence

Several approaches have been employed by activists, local and international women’s rights organisations, funders, and the government in addressing gender-based violence including the development of policies that protect women and girls from violence and support survivor’s recovery.  However, there is a need to focus on strategies for gender-based violence prevention. For instance, how can the issue of power imbalance be addressed? How can we strengthen women’s economic agency? From my experience working as a psychosocial support services provider for survivors of gender-based violence, a role I worked in for about six years in Nigeria, and where I managed up to 100 cases per year, the major reason why women continued to suffer violence and abuse remains poor financial power. Usually, for intimate partner violence cases, after debriefing and filing a case, conversations are held with the survivor on the next steps including inviting the perpetrator for a meeting with a legal representative, or an arrest may be warranted in collaboration with the police if the invitation is not honoured. The women often objected to arresting the perpetrator or would plead that the man be spoken to in a way that does not get him angry. The reason is not far-fetched. The women who are mostly with little or no source of livelihood and with many children to cater for will ask; If you get him angry and he comes home and sends me away, who will cater for my needs? Who would feed me and my children? How would I survive if I became homeless? With this understanding, many women will not even report incidences of gender-based violence because they do not want to “bite the finger that feeds them’’ thereby perpetuating the cycle of violence.

Therefore, it has become crucial and urgent to explore holistic solutions to tackling gender-based violence beyond immediate interventions.  In this struggle for gender equality, social and financial education emerges as a powerful tool that empowers women and girls to navigate life confidently, develop resilience and break the cycle of poverty and violence.

Why Social and Financial Education for Women and Girls?

Recognising that women and girls have several needs including sexual and reproductive health needs, education, and economic empowerment among other needs, it has become imperative to develop holistic and intersectional approaches to achieving these needs and this is where social and financial education comes into play. Find below some of the important benefits of social and financial education for women and girls.

Social and Financial Education for Economic Power Balance.

Patriarchal values in many parts of the world, including Africa continue to undermine women’s and girl’s voices and agency by excluding them from economic opportunities, thereby making them dependent.  Studies have shown that there is an important nexus between financial education and economic, social, and health outcomes among women and girls including issues of gender, entrepreneurial pursuits, decision-making, voice and influence, sexual reproductive health, and educational outcomes.

Increasing women and girls’ access to social and financial education enables them to make informed economic decisions, advance financially and take charge of their lives and future. This will have a positive ripple effect resulting in gender equality in the family unit and communities, increased economic participation and decision-making, and overall breaking of power dynamics.

Social and Financial Education for Tackling Gender-Based Violence.

Recall that gender-based violence is a power issue. In societies in Africa and across the world, cultural and gender norms hand power to men including economic and financial power. Hence, to foster a culture of equality and respect, and to break traditional roles and expectations concerning money, social and financial education must be embraced. Increasing women’s economic power can reduce gender-based violence by increasing women’s negotiating power in personal and public life and capacity to leave abusive and harmful relationships. For instance, In Nigeria, the percentage of women whose intimate partners display abusive controlling behaviours declines with increasing wealth of the women, from 21% among women in the lowest wealth quintile to 14% among those in the highest wealth quintile.

Studies have also indicated that social and financial education in addition to sexual reproductive health and rights programmes have reduced incidences of gender-based violence. In Uganda, girls reporting rape and sexual harassment reduced from 21% to almost zero after participating in the Empowerment for Livelihoods and Adolescent programme.

Towards empowering young people with social and financial skills, Aflatoun International developed a global curriculum- Aflateen aimed at empowering girls and boys aged 14 to 18 through life skills, financial education and entrepreneurship using a gender lens. The curriculum also explores concepts such as identity, gender, gender inequality, SRHR and human rights. Randomised Control Trials of Aflateen programmes in Burkina Faso and Cameroon indicated that implementation of Aflateen programme has a positive impact on skills development in young people particularly critical thinking on gender roles, knowledge of human rights, knowledge of sexual-based violence, decision-making in personal relationships and entrepreneurial attitude.

Social and Financial education is a game-changer in the fight against gender-based violence. With social skills, women and girls are equipped with the competencies needed to navigate the complexities of relationships and societal expectations, have a better understanding of their rights, gain confidence in their abilities, and are better prepared to resist and report incidences of gender-based violence. With financial education, women and girls have the skills to manage their finances, start businesses, or pursue employment, and become empowered to achieve economic independence. This independence acts as a protective shield from vulnerability to abusive relationships.

Written by Grace Awawu Saba

Grace Awawu Saba is the Regional Coordinator of Anglophone Africa at Aflatoun International. Grace has over 8 years of experience in designing, planning and implementing programmes focused on improving children and young people’s health and development. She is contributing to Aflatoun’s vision of having socially and economically empowered children and young people who act as agents of change in their own lives for a more equitable and sustainable world by supporting partners in the Anglophone Africa region to deliver social and financial education to vulnerable children and young people.