Good morning, and welcome to this second episode of the season 2 of the Economics newsletter by Les Glorieuses. Every month, we write about the economy, gender and race, through an international lense, with the support of women researchers and the academic sphere.
As November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we decided to address a very important question : how can work protect women ?
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Vous pouvez lire la version française, #Economie, ici. Translation in English by Stephanie Williamson.
November, 21st, 2020 – reading time: 8 minutes
Man works hard to put food on the table. He never complains. He is stoic, like a rock. His wife and four children have never seen him cry. Often, he reassures them: “as long as I am alive you’ll want for nothing”. Before leaving for work in the morning, he tells his youngest son: “look after your mother and sisters.” When he comes home late at night, his wife awaits with dinner ready, the children in bed and the house in order.
Everything is impeccable, yet he still complains. “The soup is too salty.” “Why did you buy mushrooms? They’re too expensive. »
He often talks badly to her. He’s hit her once or twice. At night, he insists on having sex even though she’s tired. She tries to stay strong in front of her children, but sometimes she bursts into tears. “That’s normal for a woman,” he says to himself. “She’s unstable. Too emotional”.
She considers leaving him. But where would she go? She has no money.
Violence is not in decline despite the increased progression of women’s participation in the labour market
While this particular story is fictional, it’s inspired by real-life testimonies. Public policies encouraged women to work, partly to allow them to break free of male domination. Their financial autonomy was seen as a way to not only rebalance the weight of both spouses in decision-making, but also to make the threat of abandoning the relationship a realistic possibility. If “she” has a salary, “she” can “walk out” at any time. “It is through work that the woman has largely crossed the distance which separated her from the male; it is work alone that can guarantee concrete freedom,” argued Simone de Beauvoir.
In recent years, the participation of women in the labour market has increased significantly. According to INSEE, in 2018 68% of women in France aged 15 to 64 were active, which is 8 points less than men. The gap was at 31 points in 1975. Globally, according to the International Labour Organization, almost half of women – 48.5% – are now working. And yet, oddly enough, domestic violence is not decreasing.
The numbers published by the French Ministry of the Interior reveal an increase in the number of femicides. In 2019, 146 women were killed by their spouse or ex-spouse – one every two days on average -, which is 25 more than in 2018. Among female victims of domestic violence (one in three), half (54%) carry out a professional activity. The figures are clear: despite increased economic independence, many women are still stuck in violent relationships …
The gendered division of work in the home is reproduced in the labour market
Several studies around the world have looked into this issue. According to the study « Domestic Violence Against Rural Women in Colombia : The Role of Labor Income« , carried out in Colombia and published in 2019 in the journal « Feminist Economics », this phenomenon is largely explained by the type of jobs that women occupy. In fact, according to the ILO, the vast majority of women work in particular economic sectors: agriculture (27.7%), wholesale and retail trade, repair (17.5%) education (7.7%) and health and social services (6.6%).
According to the study, the effect of employment on domestic violence varies depending on each sector. When women work in commerce or industry, a one-third increase in their income also reduces their likelihood of being victims of physical domestic violence by a third. On the other hand, in the case of services, an increase in income increases their vulnerability by 20% …
How can this be explained? “It is more beneficial for a woman to work in industry than in services. This type of work – the services – can make them more vulnerable because they are less stable jobs which are often devalued in the home, because these activities are traditionally female », explains María Teresa Ramírez, one of the authors of the study.
In short, the gendered division of labour at home is reproduced in the labour market. “In the service sector, women are also likely to be victims of violence from clients or employers. Women are therefore exposed on both sides,” adds Ana María Iregui, an economist who also participated in the study.
Domestic violence and type of work
Ana María Iregui et María Teresa Ramírez, co-authors with Ana María Tribín of « Domestic Violence Against Rural Women in Colombia : The Role of Labor Income », Feminist Economics, 2019
Why did you carry out this study?
Ana María Iregui :We decided to study violence in rural areas in Colombia because rural women are more exposed to domestic violence but also because violence against women is a public health problem and a major obstacle to development in this area. But then we decided to examine the effect of income on violence in terms of economic sectors, in order to be able to allow future public policies to better target the jobs that better protect women against violence.
What were your findings?
Ana María Iregui : We decided to study violence in rural areas in Colombia because rural women are more exposed to domestic violence but also because violence against women is a public health problem and a major obstacle to development in this area. But then we decided to examine the effect of income on violence in terms of economic sectors, in order to be able to allow future public policies to better target the jobs that better protect women against violence.
What are the political implications?
María Teresa Ramírez : We must promote the participation of women at work in sectors such as industry and commerce. The study also indicates that there is a need to encourage education and training for rural women to enable them to access better quality jobs. In addition, it is also necessary to initiate public policies in the field of education to break with cultural and sexist norms deeply rooted within the rural population, so that men value the work of women.
“He” can’t stand that “she” puts food on the table
In Europe, the situation is not any better. Two studies, carried out respectively in Spain and Sweden (despite often being described as “one of the most egalitarian countries in the world”), reveal that even when a woman’s income exceeds that of her husband, she remains vulnerable to domestic violence.
The hypothesis put forward by the researchers is that “Mr” cannot stand the fact that it is “Mrs” who “puts food on the table”, as this is a traditionally male role and so should fall to him. He therefore reminds his wife of his authority with what he has left: violence. This phenomenon has been qualified by sociologists and anthropologists as the “male backlash”.
“The financial empowerment of women alone does not guarantee a decreased risk of abuse. In families where only the woman works and where the husband does not work, the fact that the woman works does not reduce her vulnerability,” notes Raquel Carrasco, author of the study “Employment and the risk of domestic violence: does the breadwinner’s gender matter?” (2017) from the University Carlos III of Madrid.
“Income is important, but it’s not enough. This is because certain cultural roles remain rooted in men, which makes the backlash effect a crucial factor. Empowerment through work depends on the will of your partner, your spouse” she concludes.
Sarah’s experience as a victim of domestic violence is illustrative in this regard. Sarah, like her husband, was a truck driver. He forced her to quit her job to take care of their six children. One day, at 33, Sarah decided to go back to school. “He tried to talk me out of it, accusing me of abandoning my children and being a bad mother,” she says.
But Sarah persisted and obtained a BTS diploma in transport and logistics services. She then got a better job than her husband, still a truck driver. He couldn’t take it. “The violence started again. He was afraid he’d no longer be able to control me if I resumed a social life,” she says. “He was doing everything to get me to stop. He threatened to puncture the tires of my car, prevented me from sleeping at night by turning the light on and off, so that I would be tired the next day and that things would go wrong. He was raping me to get me pregnant again… He wanted to make me ill. For my body to give up,” she confides to me. Even her employer realized something was wrong: « He told me that I had dark circles under my eyes, that I was absent ».
Violence and partner status
Raquel Carrasco, co-author with César Alonso-Borrego of the study “Employment and the risk of domestic violence: does the breadwinner’s gender matter?” (2017), from the University Carlos III of Madrid
Why did you carry out this study?
In recent years, Spain and Europe have seen an upsurge in domestic violence, according to the data held by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. We were surprised by the scale of the problem and the lack of economic studies on this phenomenon. So we wanted to better understand the impact of income, education or demographics on domestic violence. And above all, we wanted to go further. We wanted to determine the role of the impact of each member of the couple’s situations.
What were your findings?
We’ve found that the risk of domestic violence – physical and non-physical – when the wife works is reduced only if the husband also works. On the other hand, it is when both members of the couple are working that the risk is lower. These results corroborate the sociological theory of “male backlash”. The proactive attitude of the partner is necessary to counter violence against women.
What are the political implications?
We think that from our results we can deduce three economic policies.
In the long term: to counter the effect of the « male backlash », educational policies that promote gender equality from an early age are crucial. Then there are the medium-term policies: it is important that women work in good conditions. And then finally, short-term measures, focusing on protecting the most vulnerable group of women.
We are all potential victims
It is also wrong to believe that the “male backlash” spares women from higher social backgrounds – on the contrary. According to the Swedish study, “the propensity to fall victim to the “backlash effect” increases among women with a good level of education and higher incomes,” reveals Sanna Ericsson, author of “Backlash: Undesirable Effects of Female Economic Empowerment” (2020).
Indeed, a business school degree did not protect Laura Rapp (French) from her husband’s rage. “We tend to be portrayed as welfare cases, but this is wrong. Many women who are victims of domestic violence are educated and have a good economic situation,” she explains.
Both were commercial attachés in real estate. “We each made a very good living,” she says. And yet her husband was also jealous of her professional success. She recalls one day when, after she made a particularly big sale, « he had a weird reaction. » “He called me ‘a piece of shit’ and an ‘idiot’. He was jealous. He had an obsession with being in charge,” she explains, adding that “he did not take care of the house or his daughter on purpose” to make Laura “drop everything ».
Domestic violence and income
Sanna Ericsson, author of « Backlash: Undesirable Effects of Female Economic Empowerment, Department of Economics and Centre of Economic Demography, Sanna Ericsson, Lund University, January 27, 2020
Why did you carry out this study?
I think domestic violence is a much more common issue than we think. I was also interested in this question following a study of a large survey carried out by the European Union on violence against women which showed that the countries which have the highest gender equality index also have a higher level of domestic violence – whether perpetrated by partners or not. I found this result very surprising and wanted to study this issue in one country – Sweden.
What were your findings?
I found that an increase in women’s potential income increases the risk of violence. It is difficult to know exactly why. One of the reasons I find is the “male backlash” theory. According to this, an improvement in the economic position
of women could increase violence because it violates traditional gender norms. This would make the husband anxious and therefore potentially more violent to reassert his authority over his wife. Indeed, I also note in my study that if the potential income of a woman increases, the medical visits of the husband to the hospital for reasons related to depression, drug addiction, or stress also tend to increase.
What are the political implications?
These findings indicate that, even in an egalitarian country like Sweden, traditional gender norms can condition the relationship between women’s economic empowerment and domestic violence. Thus, in addition to providing refuge and legal support to assaulted women, policymakers should consider policies to promote less traditional gender norms among boys and girls, preferably early in life. However, they must not neglect highly educated women who may already have the economic opportunity to leave their abusive spouse.
Other chains bind women to their abusers
We often hear this question being asked: if these women were working, if they had money, why didn’t they leave? All the former victims I spoke to gave me the same answer: judicial impunity. Indeed, according to a report by the Minsitry of the Interior, in 2019, « 41% of female victims [of feminicides] had already suffered previous violence and 43% of them had previously lodged a complaint.”
The first time Sarah filed her complaint with the police in 2018, the case was dismissed. “I didn’t have any evidence against my ex. I had a husband who knew what he was doing. He knew where he could hit so it wouldn’t show on the outside, everything was always calculated. When I was 6 months pregnant with one of my daughters, he punched me in the sternum. I fell to my knees,
gasping for air. He looked me in the eye and said, « Do you know why I’m hitting you there? It’s because I know it leaves no mark. «
At the police station, she says she was very poorly received. “The police took me into a room where they were sitting around tables that formed a ‘U’ shape. They were having breakfast. I was not allowed to sit, I had to stand against the wall. As they ate their croissants, they laughed at me: ‘It’s amazing that you’ve had six children with an abusive husband. It’s unheard of.’ I felt like a liar,” ”she recalls.
Khadija, a former client advisor at Veolia, also went through a similar experience. She came to the police station with a bloody face and medical certificates. After filing a 6-page complaint, she was told “you can go home.” “I thought I would be taken to safety right away,” she laments.
Of all these former female victims of violence, Laura Rapp’s assailant is the only one behind bars today. But only because of exceptional circumstances. After strangling her in 2018, her husband was placed under judicial supervision but continued to approach her. Her complaints to the police station were ignored. Desperate, Laura Rapp then appealed for help on a social network, which was relayed by the media. It was only then that her husband was sentenced. “I was
saved by a tweet,” she says.
A progressive awareness of feminicides
Since the #Metoo movement, feminist movements such as the “Colleuxes” have been stepping up action to raise awareness about violence against women. With each new feminicide, the name of the victim is stuck on the walls of cities in France. “At the beginning, there were about fifty of us in a squat in Denfert-Rochereau” recalls Ines, one of the first “colleuxes”. “The movement grew very quickly. Every day there were 10 new people. Today there are 3000 people who stick or who have stuck victims’ names on the walls of Paris ”.
“In my opinion, it’s made it possible to bring feminism into public debate whereas before we didn’t know the word”, she explains. Indeed, 55% of French people believe that domestic and sexual violence should be tackled as a priority, and 33% that it is necessary to tackle first and foremost wage inequalities, according to a Kantar survey carried out for the Fondation des Femmes and Femme Actuelle.
This media coverage of the extent of violence against women prompted the government to take up the issue. In November 2019, it organized a Grenelle– a plan to fight violence for which one billion euros was allocated. The objectives: to open 80 additional social worker positions in police stations and 1,000 new accommodation spaces for victims, to distribute a thousand “restraining order” bracelets for perpetrators of domestic violence, to fund treatment centres intended for aggressors, etc.
While these promises constitute progress, Caroline De Haas, president of the feminist collective “Nous Toutes”, has denounced a communication coup. She clarified on her Twitter account: “In total, out of the 1.1 billion euros, 75% of the spending will go to international cooperation projects. Only 25% of the budget presented by Marlène Schiappa will be used to advance equality and fight against sexual violence in France ”.
However, since the start of the pandemic, the situation has continued to worsen. The government saw a 36% increase in reports of domestic violence during the first lockdown and 15% since the start of the second. Without being able to go out or get to work, thousands of women find themselves locked up with an abusive partner. Khadija, Sarah and Laura explain that while working did not prevent violence, it still allowed them to “breathe”, “maintain some self-esteem”, and “maintain outside contacts”.
Faced with this emergency, on November 21 during the mobilization to combat violence against women, the General Confederation of Labour and the #Noustoutes movement demanded the ratification of ILO Convention 190 on violence and harassment which until now has only been signed by Fiji, Uruguay and more recently Argentina.
This convention recognises that “domestic violence can affect employment and productivity as well as health and safety, and that governments, employers ‘and workers’ organizations and labour market institutions can contribute, as part of other measures, to recognising, responding to and remedying the repercussions of domestic violence ”. In addition, it specifies in its article 3, that its application also concerns « private spaces when they serve as a workplace ». In times of lockdown, maybe it could therefore extend to the home?
According to Human’s Rights Watch, the treaty would require the government to take action so that “survivors of domestic violence can seek help without losing their jobs. » For example, it would facilitate « ‘access to recourses for victims, including complaint procedures, protection of those who report abuse, services and reparations. »
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