Generally when I escape to the Beirut Corniche to go running, I try to avoid making contact with the young lovers sharing a romantic moment in their parked cars. However, on this particular day I could not help but get involved as I saw a brawny man repeatedly and violently beating the crying veiled woman sitting in his car. She tried to get out. He locked the door. She was hunched next to the window trembling in fear pleading him to stop. He told her to shut up.
There was an army officer with a huge machine gun trying to speak with the man. I yelled at the officer to help get the woman out of the car. He (not surprisingly) ignored me. Eventually the officer convinced them to leave. That was it. I could only imagine what this woman would face later. I yelled at the officer and asked why he didn’t do more? What good were his bulging muscles and oversized gun if he could not help this woman? He responded very matter-of-factly, what more can I do? It’s his wife.
I yelled back saying that it didn’t matter if it was his wife, sister, mother, or a stranger on the street. In any case, it was wrong. He mumbled back and reluctantly agreed that it was wrong. He really just wanted me to be on my way. This just happened to be in Lebanon, but it was a powerful reminder of how violence against women is all too often tolerated and encouraged in the Middle East and around the world.
In March, the Economist published an article about Arab women’s rights. It included a survey of 15,000 Egyptian youth in 2009: “67% of female respondents believe that a husband is justified in beating his wife if she speaks to another man”.
I have to say I am not surprised by the Economist’s report. When I was living in Egypt I witnessed a woman get slapped by her husband in the middle of a crowded mall. She had wanted him to buy medicine for their son. On another occasion, I heard the wails of a young girl getting lashed by a belt when visiting a friend in one of Cairo’s poorer neighborhoods. Apparently her brother was beating her, presumably for talking to a boy without permission. In both cases, no one said anything, did anything.
I myself fell victim to violence from a partner in Egypt. After more than a year in the relationship, I found myself begging for my life, pinned against a wall being choked by a man who I had once considered so sweet and kind. The doorman stood by watching. He also said nothing, did nothing. My boyfriend at the time said with a wicked smile, “can’t you see? No one is going to help you because you are the woman and I am the man”. Sadly, in that moment, he was right. Fortunately I was able to escape and leave this abusive relationship.
So how can we change our societies to say something, do something? How can we take women out of the violence equation?
Well, not just microfinance. It will take a multi-sectoral approach. But there is sufficient data to suggest that women’s economic empowerment (through microfinance) can help reduce partner and targeted violence.
Although it should be noted that women may face greater safety risks in the short-term until governments and communities are educated about and comfortable with microfinance programs.
A 2004 report by members of the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) notes that “increased contributions of resources to household led to increased self-worth and declining levels of tension and violence” for SEDF (a microfinance organization) clients in Bangladesh. It also found that microfinance “program participation led to increased self-confidence and improved status within the community” for Freedom from Hunger clients in Bolivia and Ghana.
The CGAP research team surveyed 1300 households in Bangladesh and found that:
- Women with loans were less likely to be beaten;
- Women with schooling were less likely to be beaten;
- Non-microfinance women were 3 times more likely to be beaten than Grameen clients and 2 times more likely than BRAC clients (Grameen and BRAC are two of the largest microfinance organizations in the world).
A 2007 study on the Intervention with Microfinance for AIDS and Gender Equity (IMAGE) in South Africa found that:
- After 2 years, the risk of past-year physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner was reduced by more than half;
- Reductions in violence resulted from a range of responses enabling women to challenge the acceptability of violence, expect and receive better treatment from partners, leave abusive relationships, and raise public awareness about intimate partner violence;
- The findings, both qualitative and quantitative, indicate that economic and social empowerment of women can contribute to reductions in intimate partner violence.
Through its work, Kiva has invested in over 270,000 women entrepreneurs. Although the world may not be getting any kinder, women are getting stronger and fighting back—with microfinance as their weapon.
Nishita Roy is a Kiva Fellow (Class 10) serving in Lebanon. Get involved with Kiva’s Lebanon partners, Ameen s.a.l. and Al Majmoua, today! Invest in one of Kiva’s female borrowers right now!
*Please note that women pictured are to show some of Kiva’s women borrowers, but does not in any way suggest that they have suffered from domestic or partner violence.