The tragic misogynist massacre by a mentally unstable young man in Santa Barbara last week and the #YesAllWomen response has spurred a public discussion the big and small ways that women experience violence. The violence and risk of violence women face also affects their lives outside instances of violence, from where they decide to go at night with their friends to their engagement in the economy in the labor market.
The ways violence polices women’s lives can affect how they engage in the economy, and this in turn reinforces their limited opportunities in the economy. Violence costs women a lot. There are direct costs, like medical bills, semi-direct costs, like decreased energy and capacity to engage in the economy because of the injuries and stress of violence, and indirect costs, like being unable to take certain jobs that might not be safe because of one’s gender.
And then there are also examples of backlash against increases to women’s economic opportunities from men whose privilege and dominance over women is threatened by women’s economic lives. Economic independence can be key to women’s ability to protect themselves from certain types of violence, like being able to leave an abusive relationship, but trying to achieve economic independence can put women at risk for abuse while they are trying to make the transition
But once women do have economic power and have made the transition to economic independence, they have more gender empowerment too. A study from South Africa found that a microfinance program that incorporate education on health and gender reduced the risk of domestic violence by more than half in two years.
Economic empowerment can help women gain gender empowerment, but gender empowerment and safety in society-at-large is also a precursor toward economic empowerment. Violence beyond that committed in personal relationships, like domestic abuse, also affects women’s economic opportunities. Women face labor market mobility constraints because it is riskier for them to take jobs in certain locations or at certain times of the day if that is associated with increased likelihood of being harassed or assaulted, so they are limited in their job opportunities. Employers can then pay these women workers less than what they’re worth and the value they bring because they know that they can’t go get a safe job elsewhere. (This concept of constrained mobility leading to exploitation is known as monopsony in the labor market.) Refusing to accept misogyny like that spouted by Elliot Rodger and preventing crimes like his will also go a long way to helping women be less exploited in the economy.
Let’s imagine a world where women aren’t constrained by all the experience they’ve openly described in #YesAllWomen. Women’s economic empowerment free from violence not only makes women’s lives safer, but would make a more robust economy for everyone where people can be as productive as possible with open opportunities. Discussing what women face is the first step in refusing to let this continue.