What is Economic Violence Against Women and Why Does it Matter?

November 25, 2023

By Tayler Nelson (Graduate Research Intern, Doctoral Candidate in Sociology at the University of Minnesota), Megan Dwyer Baumann (Regional Research Lead, Latin America, Women’s World Banking), Soraya Husain-Talero (Research Director, Fundación WWB Colombia)

Despite gains in women’s rights and agency throughout the past century, violence against women remains a prevalent and persistent issue globally. United Nations Women (2023) estimates that 736 million women (nearly one in every three women above the age of 15) have been “subjected to physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their life.” The estimate excludes experiences of sexual harassment. Violence against women, including intimate partner violence, takes many forms.

In our collective discussions of violence against women, we often forget about the economic violence women experience—and the relationship between economic and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV).1 Women’s World Banking works to ensure the economic security and prosperity of women and their families, working against GBV in any form.

Women’s World Banking network member Fundación WWB Colombia2 and their partners OEM3 and Cali Cómo Vamos based in Cali, Colombia, assessed violence against women in Cali in a recently co-published research report entitled Panorama de las Violencias Contra las Mujeres en Cali (Panorama of Violence Against Women in Cali). Fundación WWB’s and OEM comprehensive conception of gender-based violence (GBV) includes analyses of economic violence. In this post, we highlight the research framework used to assess economic violence as one example of how other research and policy advocacy organizations might address economic abuse in their work against Gender Based Violence.

The report defines economic violence as “any action or omission aimed at economic abuse or abusive control of finances, monetary rewards, or punishments of women due to their social, economic, or political condition.” Economic violence can occur in partner, family, work, or economic relationships. While gender-based violence is often associated with physical or sexual acts, economic violence is a critically important part of the picture.

Research into abuse often confronts challenges related to inaccurate data. Data on abuse is difficult to collect. First, not all cases are reported by those that experience abuse. Second, official complaints to police or other mandated reporters frequently focus only on physical violence and may be inexact. Further, economic violence is largely misinterpreted and underreported.

In an effort to overcome such data challenges, the report analyzed the data from two surveys from the Observatory for Women’s Equity (OEM) collected from 890 women in Cali in 2020 and 2022 (data here). One of the surveys assessed economic violence by asking women if they had experienced any of the following: (1) access to money or food restricted, (2) money or property taken or withheld, (3) study or work banned, (4) subsidies taken or withheld, (5) personal documents hidden, (6) threats of being kicked out of the house received, or (7) earned money taken by force. In addition to survey data, researchers analyzed police data from the 22 comunas (city areas) in the department of Valle de Cauca (data here).4  The results and syntheses of the datasets illustrate how experiences of economic violence intersect with issues of race, class, resource access, and occupation.

The analysis offers four critical insights for understanding economic violence within the context of GBV:

  • Economic violence is often tied to women’s care responsibilities or labors related to children or older adults. The most commonly reported experience of economic violence involved the woman’s male partner refusing to meet children’s school or food expenses (OEM).5 The research demonstrates how economic violence directly harms both women and those they care for. Furthermore, data indicates that 23% of women in Cali, or almost one in four women, have been physically hit or kicked. Of those, 44% primarily perform unpaid care work. Importantly, these results reflect the relationship between women‘s unpaid care responsibilities, economic asymmetry, and abuse.
  • Economic violence is little understood or recognized as a form of violence, yet it is often one of the more persistent forms of gender-based abuse. Although women reported experiencing economic violence less frequently than physical, sexual, and psychological violence, economic violence had the highest rate of recurrence. The majority of women who reported experiencing one incidence reported having experienced it several times (OEM). More evidence is needed to better understand and address how to best support women experiencing persistent economic violence.
  • Violence disproportionately affects women who are already marginalized by class, race, and location. Of economic violence victims, 67% reside in areas marked as Strata 1-3, considered the lowest socioeconomic strata on a scale of 1-6 (OEM surveys). In addition, 35% reported their occupation as unpaid domestic work within their own homes (OEM). Police data indicated that reports of domestic violence, intrafamily violence typically inflicted by men, were highest in neighborhoods of low socioeconomic status located on the periphery of the city, in areas of historic disinvestment.

    In Colombia, being Afro-Colombian is related to increased risks of experiencing physical violence (Dulcey 2005). In light of that research, Fundación WWB and OEM emphasize that gender-based violence has been shaped by historical processes of systemic discrimination and social exclusion of women, including by race and class. Their analysis highlights the importance of taking an intersectional approach to research and policy advocacy around gender-based violence.
  • Pervasive gender norms held by both men and women are drivers of gender-based violence. The 2023 Gender Social Norms Index found that 82.11% of women and 81.05% of men held a gender bias against physical integrity, a proxy measure for intimate partner violence and reproductive rights.6 Stereotypes often reinforcing harmful biases were evidenced by the OEM survey as well. In Cali, 21% believed that it is more difficult for men to control anger than for women and 25% believed that women who stay with their partner after experiences of gender-based violence do so because they like it. These results speak to the need for increased educational campaigns to raise awareness of harmful gender stereotypes across all gender identities.

Turning evidence into action:

Fundación WWB focuses on prevention through addressing harmful social norms that drive GBV. In one example, the organization produced Ofelia No Está Sola (Ofelia is not alone), a text-based resource that narrates the fictive account of a woman experiencing various forms of abuse. Most importantly, the narrative illustrates pathways for seeking support. Fundación WWB has shared the resource with most of Colombia’s regions, and five other countries in Latin América.

Ofelia is not Alone is a manual that provides recourses and support for women experiencing economic violence
“Ofelia is not Alone”

In more local efforts, Fundación WWB partners with organizations to screen the Ofelia No Está Sola film and host workshops pertaining to social norms and stereotypes that perpetuate gender-based discrimination and violence.  Cognizant of caring for readers and treating research participants with the highest level of ethics, the report links readers to partnering organizations and hotline phone numbers that specialize in trauma response and supporting women in leaving abusive relationships or situations. Women’s World Banking is looking forward to continuing to watch these research insights be translated into meaningful change for women vulnerable to or experiencing economic violence.

Congratulations, Fundación WWB and team, and thank you for the thought-provoking and important work you are doing in this space.


Bowstead, J. C. (2019). Women on the move: administrative data as a safe way to research hidden domestic violence journeys. Journal of Gender-Based Violence, 3(2), 233-248.

Kishor, S., & Johnson, K. (2005). Profiling domestic violence: a multi-country study. Studies in Family Planning, 36(3), 259-261.

Stylianou, A. M. (2018). Economic abuse within intimate partner violence: A review of the literature. Violence and victims, 33(1), 3-22.

UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). 2023. 2023 Gender Social Norms Index (GSNI): Breaking down gender biases: Shifting social norms towards gender equality. New York.

UN Women. (2023 Sept. 21) Facts and figures: Ending violence against women. Available: https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/facts-and-figures

World Health Organization. (2018). Violence against women prevalence estimates, 2018: Global, regional and national prevalence estimates for intimate partner violence against women and global and regional prevalence estimates for non-partner sexual violence against women. Executive summary. World Health Organization.


  1. Another term used is financial abuse or violence. ↩︎
  2. Fundacion WWB Colombia and its forerunner, Fundacion WWB-Cali, was a pioneering affiliate Network Member of Women’s World Banking Global Network who joined in 1982. ↩︎
  3. The Observatory for Women´s Equity (OEM) is part of the alliance between the Fundación WWB Colombia and Icesi University, which seeks to join efforts to build, consolidate and make visible projects that contribute to the equality and inclusion of women in the southeastern region of the country. ↩︎
  4. Researchers and activists against gender-based violence have highlighted the weakness of police data for assessing the magnitude and severity of violence against women (Bowstead 2019; Kishor & Johnson 2004; WHO 2018). Despite its weaknesses, it can open additional and important questions regarding different levels of trust in police, differing levels of education and training from police on GBV, or potential geographic differences in types of or severity of GBV. ↩︎
  5. Due to issues like stigmatization, many instances of gender-based violence go unreported. This may be exaggerated with certain types of violence (like economic) to which there is less public awareness (Stylianou 2018). ↩︎
  6. Questions used to assess this bias asked whether respondents thought it was justifiable for a “man to beat his wife” and whether abortion is ever justifiable (UNDP 2023). ↩︎