Should women bear the financial burden of gender inequality?

Should women bear the financial burden of gender inequality?

A lack of financial resources can be a significant barrier to women leaving violent relationships and making decisions that keep them and their children safe. So it would make sense, to provide women with early access to superannuation – as announced in the Women’s Economic Security Statement…right?

Wrong. Let’s be clear - the latest evidence shows that the root cause of family violence is gender inequality. There are entrenched beliefs, behaviours, social norms, systems and structures that lead to power imbalances that drive gender inequality.

Why should women experiencing family violence bear the economic cost of gender inequality? Shouldn’t perpetrators absorb this cost, after all, intimate partner violence contributes to more death, disability and illness in women aged 15 to 44 than any other preventable risk factor. The combined health, administration and social welfare costs of violence against women have been estimated to be $21.7 billion a year. Why should women be required to access their already limited superannuation funds to cover the cost of leaving a violent relationship and rebuilding their life? If we encourage women to access their superannuation early, if they have any to access, is this an improvement to the system or are we making it worse?

At YWCA Australia, we work with thousands of women who have experienced family violence and are at risk of homelessness, money and superannuation often less pressing than the need for safety and a roof over their heads. Many of our clients have been economically dependent on their partner or were living on a low income and most experiencing levels of poverty that mean every $ counts. This often means that their superannuation funds are extremely limited. So while providing access to some quick cash to leave an abusive relationship has immediate benefits – it’s likely to be a small amount of money and will lead to longer term issues for the future financial security of women.

I’ve seen women take enormous financial hits after leaving situations of physical, emotional and financial abuse perpetrated by their partners. Many women struggle to regain that lost ground especially where they take on full financial responsibility of children. Often they lose important assets like the family home or car and take on debt to get themselves back on track.

The reality is that most women will find it hard to put that money back into superannuation.  It’s not fair that women are forced to bear the financial burden of gender inequality – it’s a vicious cycle that ultimately leaves women worse off.

YWCA Australia would love to see the Government explore other options to increase women’s economic independence in situations involving family violence. The system already allows people to access their superannuation early if they are experiencing severe financial hardship – surely family violence should meet that criteria anyway?

What we’d prefer to see is business, governments and community organisations working together to build partnerships to provide women with grants that don’t take away their future economic security or involve debt that impacts on their financial wellbeing as well as significant investment in the myriad of primary prevention, early intervention and crisis responses to domestic and family violence.

There are some strong initiatives in the $109 million Women’s Economic Security Statement that will make some headway to improve the structures and systems that underpin gender inequality. It’s great to see that after a gap of 12 years, Australia will again measure the economic value of unpaid work which largely falls on women through the Time Use Survey. In addition, flexibility around how women access the government-funded Parental Leave Pay will support more women to return to work or run their small business.

We welcome this first Women’s Economic Security Statement as a great step forward – but we’d really like to see is a giant leap and that will require a much larger financial investment.

Renee Hancock
Director, Communications
YWCA Australia