The invisible violence against women: controlling their money

Mexican law considers economic violence a type of gender violence.

11 de mayo de 2022
 entrega dinero/Foto: shutterstock
Foto: Shutterstock

MEXICO CITY. Every time Mirna collected her salary, her husband would show up right on the spot and demand the full amount of money to use as he saw fit, even leaving her without basic resources. It happened so many times that she began to ask for loans to cover the expenses of both and survive.

What Mirna went through is called economic violence, which is defined as actions or omissions that affect the survival of the victims, and those aimed at controlling their income according to the General Law on Women's Access to a Life Free of Violence. Economic violence also refers to the situation in which women earn a lower salary than their male colleagues for the same position in the workplace.

This kind of violence is often made invisible because, historically, it’s been considered a common situation that, in a heterosexual couple, the man manages the assets, mentioned Adriana Fuentes, feminist lawyer, and director of the civil association Equifonía, in an interview with Dalia Empower.

"She changed radically in many aspects of her personality and her life," Mariana Martínez, Mirna's niece, told Dalia. “She met this person who was a pastor, not from the place where she attended, but from another one […] He mentioned to her that he was looking for someone who didn’t have a family, who was single, who was financially stable; something that my aunt had because she had her life figured out, she had an income, she had a house, and a few months later they got married.”

Mirna's partner was an alcoholic, Mariana said. His only income was the tithe that the people in the church gave him. So a large part of those resources and those that he took from Mirna, he spent on alcohol. He didn't even pay rent for the place where he worshiped. She did.

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“My aunt was the one who paid all the expenses of the church; my aunt was the one who paid all household expenses. He didn’t work, he didn’t do anything at all, and well, the time came when my aunt told me: 'I don't want to give him my money, I really don’t; he tags along, and even when it’s not payday, he shows up [...] She used to say: 'My life hurts, I can't stand my life; I can’t anymore.' So she decided to separate. She was just waiting to retire to leave her house. Her own house,” she said.

Although economic violence is rarely reported, it occurs frequently. 20.9% of women aged 15 or older have experienced economic or patrimonial violence by their partner, and 13.7% by other aggressors, according to the 2016 National Survey on the Dynamics of Household Relationships.

“It is something that isn’t seen as a problem, but [with] the modifications that the regulations have had and, in this case, the Law of Access to a Life Free of Violence, it’s become visible. It’s considered a type of violence and it’s considered in the Penal Code” - Adriana Fuentes

The law has taken steps forward in regards to this type of crime in contrast to the past, in which it was simply considered that women were some type of property and that when they married and joined a new family, they were economically dependent because they wouldn’t need to work for an income of their own, the lawyer explained.

Multiple ways, same problematics

Economic violence can present itself in different ways and at different times, Fuentes said. This has been a problem in identifying the crime. It happens mainly in divorce proceedings, and that is why today, a compensatory pension is already recognized for women who were primarily dedicated to care work. But it can also occur in various situations such as: failing to comply with the obligation to provide basic resources to women who work within the household; controlling the income that women themselves receive; offering a lower salary for the same work in a workplace; or denying alimony.

In other words, women's economic income is being limited or controlled; “from what she earns, be it a salary or income from informal sales; when lower salary is received for equal work within the same workplace; when the man doesn’t want to acknowledge paternity, or when he does not comply with the obligations derived from paternity, ”explained Fuentes.

Mirna experienced one of these various forms of economic violence. In her case, she worked and supported the home. He did not provide any kind of resource. Instead, he controlled the money she earned. Unfortunately, this case is not exceptional.

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In Mexico, 2 million 123 thousand 421 women aged 15 years or older who live with a partner said that they don’t contribute to the maintenance or household expenses. Of these, 800 thousand 491 know that their partner works, and 1 million 322 thousand 930 don’t know if they work or not. Additionally, 3 million 373 thousand 73 said that their partner stops contributing money to the house when they get angry, according to ENDIREH 2016. In addition, 2 million 115 thousand 841 women aged 15 years or older expressed that their husband or partner decides about the money they earn, and 812 thousand 800 said they both do, but “their husbands have a bigger input.”

Maru, who requested us not to use her full name for security reasons, was 20 years old and studying to be a mechanical engineer when she became pregnant. She moved in with her then-boyfriend and they had a baby. To take care of the expenses of her son, she began to sell candy and food alongside her university classmates.

She thought that her partner would do everything possible to generate income and share expenses. He didn’t. And aside from selling food, she was in charge of cleaning the house and studying to try to finish her degree. However, he was dedicated to his studies under the argument that they were more difficult and demanding, and therefore he could not do any other activity.

Also read: How companies can create a protocol to fight violence against women

Since the resources that Maru generated were insufficient for both of them and for the baby, she frequently had to ask her parents for financial help, and when she asked her partner for help, he refused and said that he needed leisure time with his friends, whom he invited to the house to play video games.

Now, Maru knows that these types of acts represent a type of violence, but at that time she only thought that they were annoying situations that should be solved as a couple. She had to go through a lot to gain this knowledge and understanding.

Acts of violence that combine

Maru and Mirna experienced economic violence, but it was not the only one. In both cases, other kinds of violence were added to the mix, such as psychological and physical, which led them to very difficult situations and, in the case of Mirna, to death by alleged femicide at the hands of her partner. “When you talk about gender violence, you have to look at it from a broad perspective because this type of crime could also be taking place. In family violence, when talking about family violence, it can be said that there is a concurrence of crimes” and they must be investigated, said the lawyer and director of Equifonía.

She explained that it’s precisely the way in which the aggressors exercise control against their partners, which makes reporting it more difficult, since they exercise various forms of violence and some of them aren’t fully identified -economic violence, for example-; therefore, they are not given importance or considered a priority.

Mirna's niece says that early in the morning in September 2018 she received a call from her aunt's alleged aggressor. He told him that she had fallen down the stairs. But when she arrived at the hospital, his statements began showing inconsistencies. He told some people that he was sleeping when the accident happened, but to others, he described how the accident had happened.

There were also questions about the height from which the fall supposedly occurred, according to the pastor's version, and why Mirna had bruises on her eyes and knuckles. For this reason, he was arrested on March 7, 2022, and bound over for a femicide trial. Economic violence isn’t even mentioned anymore.

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