Why is financial literacy a gender issue?

Globally, there is a persistent gender gap in financial literacy. Financial literacy is understood as having the skills, knowledge, and capacity to make informed financial decisions. Studies show that while the gap is closing, women in Canada continue to have lower financial literacy scores than men.

The gender gap is a little baffling, especially in countries like Canada where more women than men are attending University. But, differences in financial literacy matter. With women living longer than men and already confronted by many systemic barriers to economic security, financial literacy can lead to better financial outcomes, including savings, investments, wealth accumulation and planning for retirement. Understanding the gender gap in financial literacy is then key to developing strategies to close this gap and improve women’s economic outcomes.

So, what’s behind the gender gap in financial literacy? With an increasing number of studies into the issue, there are a few common explanations found across literature.

1. Stereotype threat: Described as the impact of internalizing a stereotype attributed to a group of people, studies have found that stereotypes and attitudes about women’s ability to understand and manage finances directly influence women’s confidence when performing financial tasks.[i],[ii] For example, studies have found that stereotypes undermine women’s performance on financial tests[iii] and that although women frequently make good financial decisions, they feel more anxiety than men when doing so.[iv] When asked about their own financial knowledge, women tend to score themselves lower than men.[v]  

2. Socio-economic differences: High levels of education and income are associated with higher levels of financial literacy. This is not to say that people living on lower incomes do not have significant financial knowledge and skills. However, studies show that across genders, as income increases, so does financial literacy. Interestingly, financial services are often designed for and directed towards middle and higher-income households. This is problematic for women, especially some populations of women, including Indigenous, racialized, immigrant and women living with disabilities, who are more likely to be engaged in precarious and low-income employment.

3. Financial decision-making roles within households: The responsibility and decision making of household finances is still very gendered. Women are more likely to be responsible for daily financial spending and allocation, yet less likely to engage in the decision making of large financial decisions in the household.[vi] A study by Statistics Canada found that in households where the male partner is mainly responsible for the long term financial management, the male partners performed better on financial literacy questions than women. Some believe that differences in financial literacy are the result of women acquiring less financial knowledge because they are less involved in financial decision making in the home.[vii]

While some of the causes of the gender gap are still contested, they do all have something in common. Despite investments in financial education and programming, gender inequalities – including the myth that women are bad with money – continues to uphold the gender gap in financial literacy.

What does financial literacy have to do with gender-based violence?

Women’s economic wellbeing and safety are deeply connected. Women’s economic insecurity can increase their risk of victimization. It is also a barrier to their safety. We hear consistently that women’s lack of access to money and housing is a key barrier to leaving violent relationships. Violence also has financial consequences. It often results in health costs, legal costs, lost wages, and relocation expenses. Violence can lead to poor credit, coerced debt, and a diminished ability to work.

A common form of gender-based violence, economic abuse, can be hidden by, and reinforced with, gender norms around money. The stereotypes and attitudes around women and money can be used by abusive partners to perpetuate economic abuse – a form of financial gaslighting.  Likewise, economic abuse can be difficult to identify because of the gender norms that suggest that men should be managing and making decisions about finances in households.

Women lag, or perhaps just appear to lag, in financial literacy. With gender inequalities at the root, financial literacy programs and solutions should be focusing on tackling the dangerous gender norms and shifting the narratives that are sustaining this gap.

[i] Tinghög, G, Ahmed, A., Barrafrem, K., Lind, T., Skagerlund, K., and Västfjäll, D. (2021). Gender differences in financial literacy: The role of stereotype threat. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization. 192. 405-416.

[ii] Carr, P. B., and Steele, C. M. (2010). Stereotype Threat Affects Financial Decision Making. Psychological Science, 21(10), 1411–1416.

[iii] Tinghög et al., 2021.

[iv] Lind, T., Ahmed, A., Skagerlund, K. et al. (2020). Competence, Confidence, and Gender: The Role of Objective and Subjective Financial Knowledge in Household Finance. J Fam Econ, 41, 626–638.

[v] Bucher-Koenen, T., Lusardi, A., Alessie, R., and Van Rooij, M. (2017) How financially literate are women? An overview and new insights. Journal of Consumer Affairs,51(2),255–283.

[vi] OECD (2013) Addressing women’s needs for financial education, https://www.oecd.org/daf/fin/financialeducation/OECD_INFE_women_FinEd2013.pdf

[vii] Bucher-Koenen, T., Lusardi, A., Alessie, R., and Van Rooij, M. (2017).

Engaging people with lived experience of gender-based violence is central to WomanACT’s work. Survivors’ personal experiences of systemic barriers is key to creating solutions to overcome them. In addition, survivors’ stories, experiences, and ideas are powerful tools for education and advocacy. Understanding organizational value to engaging people with lived experience, and being open to learning and change, is important to creating organizational readiness to engage people with lived experience.

Improves service quality 

Organizations that incorporate people with lived experience into their service design and evaluation shows to improve program outcomes, including program quality and service user satisfaction. People with lived experience provide a personal perspective about how services and initiatives are received based on their own intersecting identities. Organizations can consider a range of opportunities for people with lived experience across all organizational structures to influence different types of decision making across service delivery, such as boards, proposal and program development or evaluation teams.

Increases organizational capacity

Creating collaborative spaces for team members and people with lived experience to jointly explore priority areas for community and system solutions encourages bi-directional knowledge exchange. It also increases the accountability of team members to improve program outcomes. For example, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has a program called From Surviving to Advising that aims to pair senior psychiatry residents with service users in recovery to promote mutual growth and understanding. Joint spaces have the added advantage of grounding decision-makers and humanizing discussions that may sometimes get lost in bureaucracy.

Builds trust with the community

Community engagement can be strengthened when facilitated by people with lived experience as they tend to prompt genuine and authentic conversations grounded in their personal experiences. Building trust takes time and can require frank and difficult conversations. For example, WomanACT’s AGES project, which working to improve access to services for senior women experiencing violence, engages senior women as advisors. The senior women also operate as a conduit between the organization and community members and use a snowball approach to engage senior women and community groups.  

Promotes trauma-informed organizational development 

Trauma-informed organizational development requires organizational processes to evolve from an individual hierarchical-driven approach to collaborative community approaches. Community approaches encourage organizations to intentionally consider how all structures (e.g., boards, leadership, HR, frontline) and services can include people with lived experiences. People with lived experience have insight into how power can manifest and what can be considered to reduce organizational power imbalances. Just as their engagement in community spaces promotes humanizing conversations and breaks down hierarchies, it also does so in organizations.

Survivor engagement with WomanACT

WomanACT engages survivors in advisory, researcher and participant roles across our work. We are often seeking women and gender diverse people with lived experiences of gender-based violence, housing insecurity and poverty to fill advisory and researcher roles. Survivors receive training and are compensated for their time. If you are interested in hearing about upcoming opportunities to engage in our work, please sign up to our mailing list.

What is femicide?

The United Nations has recognized femicide as the most extreme form of violence and discrimination against women and girls. Femicide is defined as the killing of women and girls due to their gender. In Canada, in 2020 alone, 160 females were victims of violent homicide, which averages to a woman or girl being killed every 2.5 days. Out of the 128 cases where the accused was identified, over 90% of the perpetrators were men, and in 41% of the cases, the perpetrator was a current or former intimate partner.[1] While there are a variety of risk factors for women and girls experiencing violence, they are often at greatest risk when they are leaving or have left an abusive relationship.

Who is at risk of femicide?

While women are the most at risk of being a victim of intimate partner violence (IPV) and femicide, some women are at greater risk than others. Indigenous women have a greater risk of  experiencing violence than non-Indigenous women and are overrepresented as victims of violent femicide. Making up less than 5% of Canada’s population, Indigenous women make up 16% of femicide victims.[2] Older adults also experience unique risk factors for intimate partner violence and intimate partner homicide due to their physical and mental health and increased barriers to seeking and accessing help.

Other risk factors include:

The impacts of COVID-19 on femicide

The number of women experiencing intimate partner violence has increased during COVID-19, with a 20-30% increase in some parts of Canada. During the first lockdown, women’s helpline call centers received an unprecedented volume of calls, and over the span of three months, Canada’s Assaulted Women’s Helpline received 20,334 calls, almost double of that of the previous year (12,352). Police across Canada responding to domestic violence disturbances also increased by 12% over a month in 2020 when the pandemic first started.[3]

What can we do?

In June 2022, the jury at the inquest into the deaths of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk, and Nathalie Warmerdam delivered 86 recommendations to prevent intimate partner violence.[4] It is time to act upon these recommendations. Recommendation #78 specifically is related to information sharing and “working together with the Domestic Violence Death Review Committees (DVDRC), justice partners, and IPV service providers to develop a tool to empower IPV professionals to make informed decisions about privacy, confidentiality and public safety.”[5] WomanACT’s MARAC project has started some of this important work.

The MARAC Project

Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARAC) bring together multiple agencies to share information and respond to high-risk domestic violence cases in communities. MARAC was developed in Wales in 2003 and is now in place in more than 250 communities across the United Kingdom. The model has shown to reduce repeat victimization, increase survivor safety and connect survivors with the support and services they need. WomanACT is leading the implementation of this model in two communities across Ontario. At the centre of multi-agency high risk tables are three key components – risk assessment, safety planning, and information sharing.

Interested in learning more about MARAC or setting up a multi-agency response to high-risk intimate partner violence in the community? We’d love to hear from you.

[1] Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability. (2020). #CallItFemicide. https://www.femicideincanada.ca

[2] Statistics Canada (2016). ‘Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report’. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-503-x/2015001/article/14313-eng.htm

[3] Thompson, N. (2021). ‘Reports of domestic, intimate partner violence continue to rise during pandemic’. 16 Feb. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/domestic-intimate-partner-violence-up-in-pandemic-1.5914344

[4] Quenneville, G. (2022). ‘Jury at triple-homicide inquest makes 86 recommendations to prevent intimate partner violence’. 28 June. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/coroners-inquest-intimate-partner-violence-renfrew-probation-1.6503862

[5] Culleton, Kuzyk & Warmerdarm Inquest Jury Recommendations (2022). https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/22072317-inquest

In recent decades, the number of women and gender diverse people in STEM-related fields has been increasing. These folks are making important discoveries and spearheading progress in their industries and academia. For example, Dr. A.W. Peet is a tenured physics professor at the University of Toronto who focuses their research on the subatomic structure of space-time. Peet also co-chairs the physics department’s Inclusivity Committee and plans to continue their advocacy work until LGBTQ+ people feel as welcome as heterosexual and cisgender people on U of T’s campus.[i] Expanding the gender diversity of STEM fields also expands the diversity of perspectives able to offer answers and breadth to new problems.

Entering a traditionally male-dominated field presents a unique set of challenges for those who have been historically excluded from STEM industries. One of these challenges is workplace sexual harassment and violence. Workplace sexual harassment is defined by the Occupational Health and Safety Act as “(a) a course of vexatious and unwelcome comment or conduct against a worker because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, and (b) an unwelcome sexual solicitation or advance by a person in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to the worker.”[ii] Gender-diverse people and women are subject to higher rates of sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. Data shows that in natural and applied sciences, 32% of women compared to 12% of men experience sexual harassment at work.[iii] And while companies have legal responsibilities to prevent and respond to instances of harassment and violence in the workplace, typical measures are consistently ineffective and continue to enable cultures of harm.

Workplace sexual harassment and violence can have serious impacts on a person’s mental and physical wellbeing, as well as their professional development.  Experiences of sexual harassment and violence in the workplace are associated with negative outcomes, such as decreased job satisfaction, withdrawal from work, worsened physical and mental health, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.  In addition, misogyny and harassment in the workplace are linked to decreased organizational commitment and diminished career progression.[iv]

A lack of data on workplace sexual harassment and violence against gender diverse, LBT women, and Two Spirit people demonstrates the need for stronger governmental support for advocacy for safe and decent employment. Almost half of LGB workers have experienced harassment in the workplace based on their sexual orientation and about 90% of transgender and gender-variant employees report experiences of workplace harassment and violence based on their gender identity and expression.[v] Dr. A.W. Peet has first-hand experience with workplace harassment, sharing in a 2019 interview with The Varsity, “the amount of transphobic harassment I’ve had… as a consequence of being an out trans person in the last few years is more than all of the misogyny that I’ve ever experienced as a presumed woman in physics for over 20 years.”[vi]

International data indicates that LGBTQ employees are less likely to report workplace harassment and violence because of a lack of appropriate policies.[vii] Additionally, a recent survey conducted by WomanACT found that fear for one’s safety was a major reason for underreporting.[viii] It is up to policymakers and advocates to push for evidence-based and trauma-informed action to be taken in STEM industries, including prevention and response measures such as climate assessments, training, communication, reporting systems, policies and procedures that are trauma-informed. Trauma-informed practices promote environments of accountability, collaboration, transparency, healing, and recovery.[ix] Advocating for more effective policies is a step in the right direction. Evidence-based workplace solutions have the power to alleviate and eliminate barriers to reporting and help make STEM workplaces a safe and harassment-free environment for women and gender-diverse folks.  

The Supporting Safe STEM Workplaces project is working with STEM industry partners across Canada to create safer workplaces through policy development, capacity building and improving access to legal supports and resources for victims of sexual harassment.

[i] Aziz, M., & Raveendran, R. (2019, October 7). In the spotlight: Dr. A.W. Peet. The Varsity. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from https://thevarsity.ca/2019/10/06/in-the-spotlight-dr-a-w-peet/

[ii] Government of Ontario. (2020, June 12). Workplace violence and workplace harassment. ontario.ca. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from https://www.ontario.ca/document/guide-occupational-health-and-safety-act/part-iii0i-workplace-violence-and-workplace-harassment

[iii] Statistics Canada. (2021). In 2020, 1 in 4 Women and 1 in 6 Men reported having experienced inappropriate sexualized behaviours at work in the previous year. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/daily-quotidien/210812/dq210812b-eng.pdf?st=SHXeWOgC

[iv] Willness, C. R., Steel, P., & Lee, K. (2007). A meta-analysis of the antecedents and consequences of workplace sexual harassment. Personnel Psychology, 60(1), 127–162. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-6570.2007.00067.

[v] Bucik, A. (2016). Canada: Discrimination and Violence against Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Women and Gender Diverse and Two Spirit People on the Basis of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression. Egale Canada Human Rights Trust in partnership with the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association – North America Region (ILGA-NA).

[vi] Aziz & Raveendran, (2019, October 7).

[vii] Bucik (2016).

[viii] WomanACT (2021). Uncomfortable workplaces: WomanACT survey shows fear of backlash, stigma, and inaction. GlobeNewswire. https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2021/11/22/2338841/0/en/Uncomfortable-workplaces-WomanACT-survey-shows-fear-of-backlash-stigma-and-inaction.html

[ix] Ending Violence Association of BC. (2019). Gender-Based Violence, Harassment, and Bullying: Workplace Policy Guidelines for Response and Prevention.

The recent death of 22-year-old Gabby Petito in 2021 who was killed by her boyfriend, and the death of 23-year-old Lauren Smith-Fields who was found dead in her apartment following a date with a man she met on a dating app is highlighting the issue of dating violence and young women.

Dating violence is defined as any physical, sexual, and psychological violence in romantic and sexual relationships. Dating violence can look like many things including; hitting, being possessive, hurling insults, intimidating, isolating partners from family and friends, stalking, checking text messages without permission, using social media to hurt, embarrass or monitor them, and pressuring them for sexual contact without consent.

Young people in Canada are at the greatest risk of dating violence, with studies showing that young people between the ages of 15 and 24 make up 43% of all incidents of dating violence.[i] Dating violence starts early and is more prevalent among young women. Dating violence can begin as early as grade school, with 29% of young girls and women in grades 7, 9, and 11, reporting experiencing dating violence, compared to 13% of young boys and men.[ii]

Furthermore, a national study looking at 3,000 Canadian youth found that in the past year 12% were physically hurt on purpose by someone they were dating, 18% had a person they were dating use social media to hurt, embarrass, or monitor them, and 28% reported a dating partner tried to control them or emotionally hurt them.[iii] Among high school students, young women ages 15 -19 experience 10 times more violence in relationships than young men.

The experience of dating violence has lifelong consequences. Dating violence during youth is a strong risk factor for domestic violence in adulthood.[iv] The experience of dating violence among young women is also linked to negative outcomes in other areas such as poor educational outcomes, substance use, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, disruptive behaviours, and suicidal thoughts.[v] Dating violence has also been linked to poorer physical health and chronic health conditions such as increased blood pressure and chronic pain.

Youth are less likely to report dating violence, with only 8% informing adults or authorities after an incident. Teens do not commonly report dating violence because they are afraid or embarrassed to tell their friends and family. In some cases, teens do not think an incident is serious enough to report. In addition, sometimes youth do not report dating violence because they do not label certain behaviours as unhealthy but interpret them as acts of love.[vi]

It is important to teach young people and those around them – teachers, parents and peers – to acknowledge, understand and intervene at the first signs of violence.

Warning signs of dating violence include:

Looking out for warning signs is a good start, but much more is needed. A culture shift is required in making sure that youth dating violence is not minimized or accepted as a common learning experience, but understood as a serious form of violence that is habit-forming, and has lifelong implications and trauma attached to it. Adolescence and young adulthood is an important developmental period and it is important that healthy habits and messaging around dating and relationships are formed to stop the cycle of violence from teen to adulthood.

Interventions can include teaching safe and healthy relationship skills in schools. Bystander education can help teachers and peers learn how to identify and take action to stop and prevent dating violence. There is also a need for improved screening for dating violence in healthcare settings, and educational programs and information for families.

Youth dating violence is a public health issue, and it is important to have publicly funded support dedicated to effective prevention and response strategies. In Canada, there are limited services that are specialized for young people experiencing violence, in addition to a lack of  policies that offer protection and clear actions on where to go and how to receive help.

[i] Statistics Canada. (2008) Police reported dating violence in Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2010002/article/11242-eng.htm

[ii] Price et al. (2001) Dating violence among New Brunswick Adolescents: A summary of two studies. Fredericton, Canada: Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research, University of New Brunswick.

[iii] Exner-Cortens D, Baker E, Craig W. (2021) The National Prevalence of Adolescent Dating Violence in Canada. J Adolesc Health, 69(3): 495-502. 

[iv] Persram et al., (2021 Dec 14) Development and validation of the teen dating aggression measure among Canadian youth. Front Pyschol.

[v] Taquette, S. R., & Monteiro, D. (2019). Causes and consequences of adolescent dating violence: a systematic review. Journal of injury & violence research11(2), 137–147.

[vi] Hébert, M., Van Camp, T., Lavoie, F., Blais, M., & Guerrier, M. (2014). Understanding the hesitancy to disclose teen dating violence: Correlates of self-efficacy to deal with teen dating violence. Temida : casopis o viktimizaciji, ljudskim pravima i rodu17(4), 43–64.

Domestic and dating violence, or intimate partner violence, has a long term impact on women’s economic security. A lack of economic security can prevent a woman from leaving an abusive relationship and make it difficult to establish safety and financial independence. One of the ways that intimate partner violence affects women’s economic security is by impacting their ability to find and maintain employment.

Survivors may be prevented from working by an abuser. It is also common for an abuser to make it difficult for a survivor to get to work and maintain their employment.[i] These controlling behaviours are often referred to as employment sabotage. Employment sabotage can look like hiding a survivor’s car keys or starting an argument before work.[ii] It also looks like an abuser refusing to care for children while the survivor is at work and restricting access to alternative childcare.[iii] Employment sabotage shows up in the workplace, too. Survivors may receive excessive phone calls and text messages to the workplace or may experience stalking in and around the workplace.[iv] The sabotage tactics might start to involve co-coworkers. Lies told to co-workers by an abusive partner, such as claiming that the survivor stole from the company, can be used to damage the survivor’s employment or career progression.[v]

While there is a very little research into the impact of trauma on employment, there is some evidence to show that trauma from violence impacts the survivors’ ability to gain and sustain employment.[vi] The effects of trauma, like anxiety and depression, can impact a survivor’s performance and advancement at work.[vii] Knowing the long term effects of trauma, it could potentially impact a survivor’s job stability or career progression for many years.

The constant disruption, stress and harassments felt by a survivor can lead to a survivor missing work as well as reduced productivity when they are there. Because of this, intimate partner violence can be associated with career gaps, underemployment, and a loss of earnings.[viii] It can also lead to job loss. In some some cases, survivors may quit their employment because of feelings of shame associated with being a victim of violence or embarrassment over the abuser’s stalking or harassment in and around the workplace.[ix] In other causes, survivors may lose their jobs because of the number of missed days or the poor productivity and performance.[x]

However, the relationship between intimate partner violence and employment is complicated. For some survivors, violence spills over into the workplace. For other survivors, the workplace can be a place of safety or escape. Furthermore, employment is an important source of financial independence for survivors. This is why it is frequently targeted by abusers. These challenges can be further compounded by the structural barriers to employment that survivors face. For example, racialized women with experiences of violence face additional systemic barriers to equal pay and decent work.

With the increased risk of intimate partner violence and the fundamental shift to how we work amid the pandemic, it is vital that we we understand the changing realities faced by survivors.

The Intersections between employment and safety among racialized women project is undertaking research to understand racialized women’s experiences in employment and how these are impacted by experiences of intimate partner violence. The project will be undertaking primary research with survivors well as work with employment agencies and employers to improve policies and practice.

[i] Showalter, K. (2016). Women’s employment and domestic violence: A review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 31(01), 37-47.

[ii] Swanberg, J. E., Logan, T., and Macke, C. (2005). Intimate partner violence, employment and the workplace: consequences and future directions. Trauma, violence and abuse, 6(4), 286-312.

[iii] Hess, C; Del Rosario, A. (2018). Dreams Deferred: A Survey on the Impact of Intimate Partner Violence on Survivors’ Education, Careers, and Economic Security. Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

[iv] Logan, T.K., Shannon, L., Cole, J., and Swanberg, J. (2007) Partner stalking and implications for women’s employment. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22(3),268-91.

[v] Moe, A.M and Bell, M.P. (2004). Abject Economics: The effects of battering and violence on women’s work and employability. Violence against Women, 10(01), 29- 55.

[vi] Riger, S. and Staggs, S. (2004). Impact of Intimate Partner Violence on Women’s Labor Force Participation, Final Report. National Institute of Justice, United States. Available at: https://nij.ojp.gov/library/publications/impact-intimate-partner-violence-womens-labor-force-participation-final-report

[vii] Showalter, 2016.

[viii] Tolman, R. M., & Raphael, J. (2000). A review of research on welfare and domestic violence. Journal of Social Issues, 56(4), 655-682.

[ix] Swanberg, Logan and Macke, 2005.

[x] Showalter, 2016.

Economic abuse is a common form of intimate partner violence. Studies have shown that anywhere from 94%[i] to 99%[ii] of women in abusive relationships have experienced some form of economic abuse. Economic abuse includes behaviours that control a person’s ability to gain or use economic resources. Some of the more common forms of economic abuse as a form of intimate partner violence include a partner restricting access to income, demanding to know how money was spent and withholding financial information. Another common tactic includes coerced debt in which a partner builds up debt in their partner’s name. Economic abuse often happens alongside other forms of abuse.

Economic abuse can be difficult to identify or may be overlooked. This is because it may be assumed customary or normal for men to bring in more income or manage the household finances. This can be complicated by the taboo around discussing money with those outside of the household. Economic abuse can have serious consequences. A lack of access to money makes it difficult for a woman to flee violence. A lack of income and savings alongside debt and poor credit can make it difficult for women to establish safety and independence because they cannot secure housing or meet their other daily needs.

With more than 99% of Canadians having a bank account[iii], financial services, such as banks, are in a good position to identify, prevent and respond to the economic abuse. Financial services can support in a variety of capacities. Financial services can help identify and intervene to support survivors as well as help survivors re-build their economic security. They can also help survivors and promote women’s economic security by developing products that may prevent abusive behaviours among families and are designed specifically for survivors.

Some jurisdictions have recognized the value of financial services in playing a role in the prevention and response to economic abuse. The Members of UK Finance and Building Societies Association and the Australian Banking Association have developed industry guidelines for financial services. These guidelines recommend that banks and other financial services train employees on identifying financial abuse and create policies to help employees identify and respond to customers experiencing financial abuse.

With such a large audience, financial services could also help raise awareness of financial abuse among the public as well as start to challenge and shift the gender norms related to money that perpetuate women’s financial dependence and economic insecurity.

Addressing gender-based violence requires a coordinated and holistic approach from multiple services, including the private sector. While historically, a multi-agency response to intimate partner violence has included justice partners and agencies providing support to victims, the prevalence of economic abuse as well as the importance of financial well-being as a key safety factor, makes a case that financial services should also be a part of this response.

Interested in learning more about the role of financial services in the prevention and response to economic abuse? You can read our brief here.

[i] Adams, A.E., Sullivan, C.M., & Greeson, M.R. (2008). Development of the Scale of Economic Abuse. Violence Against Women 14(5), 563 – 588.

[ii] Postmus, J.L., Plummer, S.B., McMahon, S., Murshid, N.S., & Kim, M.S. (2012) Understanding Economic Abuse in the Lives of Survivors. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 27(3), 411 – 430.

[iii] Canadian Bankers Association (2021) Focus: Banks and Consumers. https://cba.ca/banks-and-consumers

The COVID19 pandemic may be novel, but the connection between violence and women’s economic security is not. As governments start to develop economic recovery plans, it is critical that women’s safety is priority.

Women’s economic security and safety are connected. Without economic resources, women are unable to flee violent situations and face a greater risk of exploitation and victimization. Violence also has long term impacts on women’s economic well-being.  Women with a history of domestic violence change jobs more often and are more likely to be in casual and part-time jobs than women without experiences of violence.

Survivors also experience financial hardship after fleeing violence such as debt, poor credit scores, and ongoing legal costs. These financial pressures make it difficult for survivors to rebuild their financial stability.

With a reported increase in gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic and the significant economic toll on women – like disproportionate jobs losses and an increase in care responsibilities – rebuilding the economy cannot be at the cost of women’s safety.

Domestic violence in the workplace

Domestic violence often spills over into or near the workplace and can impact an employees’ concentration, attendance and performance at work. With an estimated one in three workers reported to have ever experienced domestic violence in Canada,[i] it is essential that employers understand their legislative requirements as well as how they can recognize domestic violence among employees and provide the necessary support.

Sexual violence and harassment in the workplace

While violence is present in all workplaces, women are more likely to experience sexual harassment. Some women are disproportionately affected because of their employment status, the nature of their work or their working conditions. Sexual violence and harassment is particularly common in male-dominated workplaces. As governments start to look at removing barriers for women to fields in which they are underrepresented, it is critical that these fields of work are safe.

Survivors re-entering the workforce

Survivors face barriers to maintaining employment or entering the workforce because of the health impacts of abuse as well as control tactics of abusers. Some survivors face barriers due to having large gaps in their careers because of their abusive relationship. With a focus on achieving the shortest route to work, as typically found in employment and income support programs, survivors are often forced to accept precarious work. There is an opportunity to ensure women’s full access to decent work but this cannot be done without investments into childcare, housing and workforce development initiatives. 

This is an opportunity to design things differently – to listen to survivors to understand the economic and safety barriers that they face and to co-create solutions.

This is an opportunity to rebuild things differently – to establish services, policies and social conditions that promote women’s economic security, independence and safety.

Check out our submission to Ontario’s Task Force on Women and the Economy

[i] Wathen, C.N., MacGregor, J.C.D., and MacQuarrie, B.J. (2014) Can Work be Safe, When Home Isn’t? Initial Findings of a Pan-Canadian Survey on Domestic Violence and the Workplace.

On August 31, 2021 the Pay Equity Act will come into force requiring federally registered employers to proactively plan around and compensate for pay gaps between women and men. The Pay Equity Act Canada has been in development for the last 6 years to help close the gender wage gap in federally registered workplaces.  In Canada, women earn on average .89 cents to every dollar earned by men.[i]

The new Act employs aspects of current equity pay legislation already in place in many provinces such as requiring employers to create job classifications based on gender and putting the responsibility on the employer to look at their practices and compensation schemes. It takes the onus away from employees to seek equal compensation, and makes employers review and change their practices. Employers will have to create equity plans and undergo yearly audits to look at the differences in their wages between female job classes and male job classes. A Pay Equity Commissioner will oversee implementation and compliance. Federal employers will have 3 years to implement any new compensation structures.

This new Act is intended to ensure that women and men receive equal pay for work of equal value versus equal pay for equal work. This is defined under the Act as job classes which predominantly are either occupied by men or women and have comparable skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions. For example, valuing equally the physical work required by female cashiers to that of a male stockperson. The Act is aimed at making sure that job classes that women are overrepresented in due to gender stereotyping, are not underpaid and undervalued. 

How will this impact women?

In Ontario, federally registered workplaces account for around 10% of all workplaces. They are not industries with a high representation of women such as the service sector, including food services and retail,[ii] which are already covered by the provincial Equity Act Ontario since 1990. However, it is an important step to make federal workplaces in alignment with existing rights in Ontario.

Further, there are many factors that contribute to the pay gap. Although pay equity legislation is an important step, the gender pay gap is only one symptom of the wider societal and structural forms of discrimination that impact women’s participation in the economy. Women are more likely to be in part-time employment due to a lack of affordable childcare and an unequal division of family responsibilities.[iii] Women are also more likely to be in precarious work and are overrepresented in certain sectors[iv] which can harm their opportunities for meaningful employment. This has been especially highlighted during the pandemic with statistics showing that women’s employment has been consistently impacted at higher rates than men.[v]

Violence is another barrier faced by women to accessing decent and meaningful employment. It is estimated that half of Canadian women over the age of 16 have had at least one experience of physical or sexual violence in their life time.[vi] Some studies show that women who have experienced intimate partner violence are more likely to be in part-time employment, and earn 60% lower than women who have not.[vii] In addition, the gender pay gap is different among different groups of women. While the average gender pay gap for women in Ontario is 29.3%, racialized women in Ontario experience a gender pay gap of 38%, immigrant women in Ontario experience a gender pay gap of 34% and women with disabilities face a 56% wage gap.[viii]

Although the Pay Equity Act brings another promising development, more policies are needed to eradicate the multiple barriers different women face to fully participate in the economy.

[i] Statistics Canada (2020a) Table 14-10-0340-02 Average and median gender wage ratio, annual. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25318/1410034001-eng

[ii] Statistics Canada (2020b)Table 14-10-0023-01  Labour force characteristics by industry, annual (x 1,000). DOI: https://doi.org/10.25318/1410002301-eng

[iii] Dupont, Anne-Helene. ‘Why are there more women working part-time?’ (Part-time.ca) October 16, 2018. Why Are There More Women Working Part Time? | Part-time.ca

[iv] Statistics Canada (2020c)Table 14-10-0327-03  Proportion of workers in full-time and part-time jobs by sex, annual. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25318/1410032701-eng

[v] Douwere, G. and Lu, Y. (2021) Gender differences in employment one year into the COVID-19 pandemic: An analysis by industrial sector and firm size. Statistics Canada

[vi] Statistics Canada (1993) Violence Against Women Survey [Archived] Available at: Surveys and statistical programs – Violence Against Women Survey (VAWS) (statcan.gc.ca)

[vii] Lakshmi, P. (2016) ‘Speech-The economic costs of violence against women’ The economic costs of violence against women | UN Women – Headquarters

[viii] Equal Pay Coalition available at www.equalpaycoalition.org

Last week, Ontario released its 2021 budget. The budget focuses on protecting people’s health and the economy, and it charts the Province’s plan to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. With a deficit expected until at least 2029, it is clear that Ontario is facing historic economic pressures – and so too are women.

Women have experienced disproportionate impacts of COVID-19. This is especially true for women who are racialized, recent immigrants, and working in low-wage jobs, along with other intersecting inequities. They have borne the brunt of job losses, sustained our essential workforce, assumed additional household duties, and endured a catastrophic rise in gender-based violence.

So how does Ontario’s budget fare when it comes to supporting women?

The good: Recognition of the pandemic’s impact on women

Ontario has recognized the gendered impact of COVID-19 within the budget, with dedicated sections on the economic challenges faced by women and the need to support victims of domestic violence and human trafficking. The budget presents new funding pools for violence against women, including $18.5 million over three years to support victims of domestic violence to find and maintain housing and $18.2 million over three years to support ending violence against First Nations, Inuit, and Métis women and girls. In addition to these investments, the budget commits to the development of a task force to address the economic impacts of the pandemic on women.

The bad: A focus on individual finances over system investments

Many of the budget’s new investments administer funds directly to Ontarians. For example, the Province is enhancing its childcare tax credit, doubling its COVID-19 child benefit, and introducing a jobs training tax credit to help workers grow their skills. While employment and childcare are critical components of women’s economic recovery, these individual-level investments are not solutions for system-level problems. They won’t create more childcare spaces, they won’t sustainably lower childcare fees, and they won’t create the tailored supports that women need to re-enter the labour market. Moreover, tax credits are not an accessible option for the many women and families who cannot afford upfront costs. Some funding has been allocated at the system level for women: $2.1 million over three years for victims of violence, aimed at expanding programs in underserved communities, increasing access to legal support, and improving integrated service delivery. However, this amount is clearly insufficient to respond to the ‘shadow pandemic’ of gender-based violence that we’ve seen intensify over the past year.

The missing: Support for Ontario’s renters and workers

Throughout the pandemic, advocates have called for two key investments to address the impacts of COVID-19: residential rent relief and paid sick days. The budget is notably silent on both of them. The budget is also lacking any clear investments to increase Ontario’s limited affordable housing stock. Stable tenancies and paid leave policies are critical for women-led households and survivors of domestic violence to secure financial independence and avoid homelessness – especially during a pandemic – making this budget omission a setback for gender equity.

Unprecedented impacts call for unprecedented investments. This budget acknowledges the challenges ahead for women, but offers few bold actions to address them. As Ontario enters a third wave of COVID-19 and begins to put recovery plans into motion, it needs to prioritize an equitable way forward. Immediate investments that enable women to build economic security – like accessible and affordable childcare, fair wages and working conditions, and affordable housing options – will put us on the best path to truly protecting our health and economy.