Various researches have shown that economic empowerment does not automatically lead to reduction in violence against women. An economic empowerment endeavour has to go hand-in-hand with organising women for collective and individual empowerment to reduce violence against women. "Although physical violence has reduced, psychological and emotional violence still persists; husbands inflict psychological and emotional violence against us for not carrying out the roles of traditional homemakers,” women have said.
In one of my researches, a woman is quoted as saying: “Women are now demanded to earn and provide money to husband/family, but husbands do not share household chores so women’s workload has increased tremendously".
One important factor that is often ignored by women's economic empowerment programmes in Nepal is to find out who becomes the owner of the asset accumulated by women's economic participation like in Microfinance (MF) and Microenterprise (ME) activities. There are cases where micro-entrepreneurs have invested the additional income for the purchase of land and average holding has been increased from before joining the program. The increase in farm size has been more in the case of borrowing of micro-entrepreneurs compared to non-borrowing micro-entrepreneurs due to their ability to establish, operate and manage the relatively larger ME as reported in a research of MF Impact Study Report, Micro Enterprise Development Project (MEDEP) III.
The reports lack gender disaggregated data to show that this land or any other asset created with earnings from women's involvement in economic activities have been registered under their name. Special needs of women in the Micro-Enterprise Development Sector state that higher the size of the land holding, higher will be the work burden of women. Limited access to household income is another problem. About 63 per cent of women said they do not keep household incomes and it is mostly spent by men for drinking and playing cards. Very few women reported that they are consulted while making important decisions in the family.
A major problem of the disadvantaged women was physical abuse by their husbands. Nearly 66 per cent reported frequent physical abuse by their husbands. Men respondents verified this fact. Three out of the five men participants claimed to beat their wives. According to women, the causes were due to high alcohol intake and frustration from lack of employment. Several researches conducted in Nepal show that women's participation in economic activities like access to MF services, operation of ME, etc. leads to women’s empowerment. However, several citing above give us food for thought on whether this also leads to their protection. Although certain changes in the behaviour of women and their family members can be seen, the fact that no matter how much labour the women put in their work, their asset does not increase and the economy and the finance of the house is still under the control of their husbands or other family members. This indicates that it is a violation of their rights to own their property and their own income. Increase of household asset may not be an automatic protection of women and children. That may actually put them under added work burden.
In many cases, cooperatives addressed these structural forms of violence against women through legal action, legal advice for women, awareness campaigns, demonstrations and protests and mobilising the community against these ills. Here the researchers were looking into how women's Saving and Credit Cooperative (SACCO) could emerge as spaces of positive collective action for peace in the communities torn by domestic, societal and structural conflict. In an organised manner, cooperatives have undertaken actions to prevent violence in households and communities through the paralegal committees mainly after particular episodes of violence occur. The focus of SACCOs is to collect savings and invest them as loans to their members. However, as part of their cooperative principles they also engage in several activities that are for the benefits of their members. There are several women only SACCOs in Nepal who have been promoted by the government, NGOs, INGO and donors.
Collectively, members take up cases of violence against women as and when they come, the group pressure on stopping domestic violence has been recognised in the communities where women SACCOs exist but to what extent it completely eradicates violence has not been studied yet. There is also an implication that although these SACCOs may have paralegal committees within their system how strategic they are in understanding the root causes and addressing them as a prevention is indeed a question that still needs probing.
Currently, there has been a big backlash in Nepal regarding the role of MF and defaulting by clients and microfinance institutions. MF is providing financial services to the poor including savings, credit, insurance, remittance etc. Started from a charity approach MF quickly moved on to becoming a profit-making industry. Although more than 90 per cent of the clients of the MF industry are women, they are still far from owners and managers of this industry. The men-led industry has gregariously started duplicating clients, thus leading to the current crisis. This needs to be reviewed and proper action taken in order for MF to address the needs of their clients who are pre-dominantly women.
(Namrata Sharma is a journalist and women rights activist. firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter handle: NamrataSharmaP)