The Status of Women Council of the NWT is campaigning to prevent economic abuse by asking governments and financial services to change their approach.
Janet Dean, leading the council’s project, said women are disproportionately affected by economic abuse – a form of family violence where a perpetrator controls someone’s economic resources or freedom.
Examples cited by the council include interference with someone’s ability to maintain employment or go to school, coerced debt, denying access to bank accounts and financial decisions, and severely curtailing choice about purchases.
“A lot of the messages that women and girls receive about money throughout their life stages contribute to their vulnerability,” Dean said.
Dean said economic abuse in the NWT is unique because, on average, incomes in the territory are high – particularly for those working in government or the resource sector – but financial literacy is low. She gave the example of a mine worker working two weeks on and two weeks off, with an automatic deposit of their paycheque, who comes home to discover their partner has spent all of their income without their knowledge.
“When your paycheques are high and you’re living paycheque to paycheque, and you don’t have that kind of understanding of money and financial literacy, it’s easier to accept that that is an OK state of being,” Dean said. “It’s easy for that to be abused, or for that to be out of their personal control.”
Dean acknowledged that people living in poverty can also experience economic abuse.
A poverty report card released by Alternatives North in December 2020 documented widespread inequality in the NWT. That report showed a stark contrast in income security between those working in government or the resource sector and those in the sales and service industry.
The status of women council hopes to work with public and private policymakers to ensure their practices aren’t inadvertently facilitating economic abuse. The council plans to develop training to share with other organizations about how to support people who have endured economic abuse.
Dean said potential areas for change are joint accounts at financial institutions, government funding, and insurance.
The NWT effort is part of Help Us Rise, a national advocacy and awareness campaign from the Canadian Centre for Women’s Empowerment – or CCFWE – which declared November 26 economic abuse awareness day.
Meseret Haileyesus, a CCFWE representative, said economic abuse is more pronounced for people who are Black, Indigenous, or of colour, and can stop someone leaving an abusive relationship. Even after the relationship ends, she said, the impacts of economic abuse – like debt and bad credit scores – can deny survivors access to a credit card, loans, secure housing, or employment.
“We believe that knowing about economic abuse could help to prevent it,” she said. “We want people to have that information so that they can easily identify [it] and respond.”
Haileyesus said governments, financial and academic institutions, the justice system, and utilities have a role to play in combating economic abuse.
CCFWE has called on the Canadian government to include economic control, sabotage, and exploitation in the federally legislated definition of domestic violence.
Haileyesus said the organization has set out five actions financial institutions can take, including reducing interest rates on credit cards, relaxing criteria for critical personal loans, and offering flexible and realistic payment plans.