This Article seeks to explore economic or financial abuse as a form of gender-based violence (GBV). This is one of the most undermined forms of GBV across the globe. While empirial data is largely available on the types and consequences of physical, sexual and even psychological violence in most countries, there is a scarcity of data on the prevalence and forms of economic violence particually in countries with scant resources. Therefore, in countries like Pakistan where levels of poverty, economic exploitation, and violence are high an analytical review of economic abuse becomes necessary.
Definition and Forms
Economic violence is said to occur when an abuser has absolute control over a victim’s monetary and other economic resources. In the context of women, this tends to happen mostly during domestic relationships where a male of the family exercises control of the finances, reducing a woman’s role to that of complete financial dependence.Economic violence can include constraints on independent sources of income, freedom to work, limitations on expenditure, and even stealing money from women. Not only does economic violence violate basic human rights which includes the right to work, but it also adversely affects the physical and psychological health of victims in the form of future financial stress and fear of poverty. Additionally, it can involve exclusion from or denial of healthcare, education, property including inheritance and agricultural resources, employment, financial resources, and the right to livelihood.
Constitutional and International Protection
The Constitution of Pakistan guarantees the freedom of trade, business, and profession (Article 18), freedom of movement (Article 15) and right to education (Article 25A) as well as the right to acquire, hold and dispose of property (Articles 23 and 24). Irrespective of these fundamental rights, 66.6 percent of women in Pakistan within which 96 percent in Balochistan are barred from selecting professions of their choice. Similarly, roughly 66.1 percent of women in Pakistan lack the independence to travel. According to one study, the prevalence of economic violence (including contraints on having an independent source of income, no freedom to work, stealing money from wives, restricting their expenditures) against women by men was as high as 83.71 percent in the study area, with 13.79 percent of men accessing their wives incomes or assets without their consent, 32.85 percent generally ussing their wives’ total income, and 67.15 percent of men were unwilling to allow their wives to work outside their homes.
With regards to ownership of property—a crucial component of economic empowerment—only 2 percent of women own land, 3 percent own a house, 6 percent use a bank account, 39 percent own a mobile phone, and 13 percent have access to loans as compared to 87 percent of men. It was noted by the UN Office of the High Commissioner that, “[r]ights to land, housing and property are essential to women’s equality and wellbeing. Women’s rights in access to and control over land, housing and property is a determining factor in women’s living conditions, especially in rural economies. Despite the importance of these rights for women, they still disproportionately lack security of tenure.”
Akin to this, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides the right to own property, the right to a standard of living for health and well-being, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, etc. All of these rights are the cornerstones of life itself, deprivation of which causes grave violations. Therefore, economic violence is a demanding issue and is often overlooked as trivial or the accepted norm but the harsh reality needs to become apparent within Pakistan’s legal framework.
Domestic legislation and case law
The acceptance of economic violence as the norm in Pakistan, necessitates an assessment of our domestic legal framework. According to the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2016, “violence” includes domestic and sexual violence as well as psychological and economic abuse. The latter is elucidated as the “denial of food, clothing and shelter in a domestic relationship to the aggrieved person by the defendant in accordance with the defendant’s income or taking away the income of the aggrieved person without her consent by the defendant.” Similarly, the Balochistan Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2014 and the Sindh Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2013 define economic abuse as the deprivation of or restriction to access financial resources to which a person is entitled.
In relation to property ownership, a woman cannot be prevented from exercising control over her property. This is verified by the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act 1939 which classifies disposing off a woman’s property or preventing her from excersing her legal rights over it as a form of cruelty and therefore a valid ground for divorce.The court’s attitude towards upholding justice and protecting the rights of women is commendable. In a recent Supreme Court case, a husband attempted to dispose off his wife’s house by pledging it as their son’s dower to his to-be bride. It was held that the property could not be gifted as dower since the woman was firstly not a signatory to the marriage contract, and secondly, the husband had no right, in the absence of a power of attorney, to effectuate transactions over his wife’s property.
In Pakistan, the Shariat Courts have a clear stance on the inheritance rights of women as they build on important verses of the Holy Quran, for example:
“[M]en shall have the benefit of what they earn and women shall have the benefit of what they earn;”
“And eat up not one another’s property unjustly.”
Not only this, but the precise shares of a woman’s inheritance are also ordained under Islam and deprivation of such shares is a criminal offence under the Section 498A of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) with a punishment for a term of five to ten years and/or a fine of one million rupees. Other supplementary laws also exist to expedite the transfer of inheritance shares, further strengthening the rights of women. On one occasion, in Kausar Bibi v Ayesha Bibi,a judicial officer was severely reprimanded for denying the deceased’s daughters their rightful shares in favor of the deceased’s son. Therefore, depriving women of their property rights is a violation of domestic and human rights law as well as islamic principles.
The problems of economic abuse against women in particular stem from the much larger issues of lack of education, mental health and cultural stigmatizations. To reduce gender disparity and economic violence in developing countries like Pakistan, significant policy reform is required on the ground level. Not only do laws need to be enacted but their enforcement is key to empowering women and bringing about real change. To improve the existing system, there needs to be long-term solutions with multifaceted initiatives that collaboratively involve all organs of the state. These can include awareness campaigns, media attention, as well as reform through institutional and political means.
Insight can also be drawn from national action plans in other countries such as Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, and Bangladesh. For example, in 2019, Bangladesh launched a four-year National Action Plan (NAP) on women, peace and security with the help of UN Women and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The NAP recognizes the crucial role women play in the prevention of violent extremism and aims to make disaster management and recovery systems more gender-responsive, as well as to enhance the protection of women’s human rights, before, during, and after conflict and crises. Financing was to come from the core budget of relevant ministries, and development partners. To develop culture-specific responses, evaluations and research work must also be undertaken to ensure that proposed changes are practical and will be implemented.
Although economic violence requires long-term commitments and multi-pronged strategies, it is “predictable and preventable.” The governmental and judicial response to GBV has blossomed over the last decade in Pakistan and with continued political commitment, a review of the legal framework for the protection of women’s rights and domestication of international instruments are still necessary. Women’s economic rights to own property and land, to inheritance, to equal access to financial institutions, to choose employment, and to receive equal remuneration for work in comparison to men must be safeguarded. Importantly, “only when equity is promoted between men and women will economic violence no longer be the norm.”
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 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 6.
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 National Commission on the Status of Women, ‘Women’s Right of Inheritance and its Implementation’ (2008) 1, 78. <https://www.ncsw.gov.pk/SiteImage/Downloads/Women’s%20Rights%20of%20Inherence%20and%20its%20Implementation.pdf> accessed 9 July 2022.
 Footnote 5, page 19.
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 UNGA, Res 217 A (III) (10 December 1948) UN Doc A/RES/217(III)
 Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act 1939, s 2(viii)(d).
 Fawad Ishaq and Mst. Khurshida Ishaq v Mst. Mehreen Mansoor  SC PLD 269
 Surah An-Nisa 4:7, 4:13, 4:14, 4:19, 4:33, and 4:34.
 Surah An-Nisa 4:32
 Surah Al-Baqarah 2:188
 The Punjab Land Revenue Act 1967, s 135A); the Punjab Partition of Immoveable Property Act 2012.
 Mst. Kausar Bibi v Mst. Ayesha Bibi and 6 Others  LHC CLC 1601
 National Action Plan Women, Peace and Security avaiable at: https://www.peacewomen.org/sites/default/files/Bangladesh%20NAP%20(2019-2022).pdf
 Footnote 1, page 9.