Friday, March 22, 2013

Corporations and Domestic Violence: Reaching out to the abused

During an interview today for a volunteering position teaching financial education to women, I was asked what had driven me down this path. I read off the reasons shared in several of my posts here: the importance of helping women gain financial independence, wanting to elevate women out of poverty and escape abusive relationships, the desire to help more women enter the workforce with professional posts. As the interview wore on, I mentioned how corporations have an obligation to help empower women. As with most discussions, I learned something impressive that is overlooked by the mainstream media.

With all the news we hear on corporate fraud, corrupt CEOs, the focus on the bottom line, what we're not exposed to is how some corporations are reaching out to empower women in small, but impactful ways: they're reaching out to abused women to help them gain financial independence. Many hold workshops and presentations to women in shelters. The lessons include everything from saving money, budgeting, and job searching. Important topics that help these victims gain the confidence and skills they need to escape abusive relationships. If only these firms would take this one step further and help recruit these women, it would help improve their quality of their lives and unburden them from the financial problems many are overwhelmed with.

Most will agree this is an important first step in mitigating poverty in obvious ways, many of which have been discussed above. But there are other benefits as well. The skepticism that many women and other vulnerable groups have about financial institutions is alarming. A lot of it stems from misinformation that is easily spread by word of mouth, which is a damning advertising for businesses. Everyone expects advertisements to be somewhat misleading, but a loved one or acquaintance sharing a bad service experience is marketing suicide. This is especially true with respect to the poor and uninformed because they are the least likely to verify horrific testimonials. By reaching out to these women, financial institutions learn to slowly win their respect and confidence. This leads to an increased interest in banks and investing in general, and encourages these groups to use these services. Which leads to increased activity of the financial market, a stimulated economy, and growth all around.

But this is a small step. What is needed is to take this service to a higher level, like the political one. The government needs to do more than just fund programs for women. As the latest budget standoff demonstrates, funding can be potentially cut at the slightest disagreement. While President Obama's American Jobs Act that's been a pressing issue since 2011 has a measure to help create jobs for low-income adults, the bill is still being debated. Aside from passing legislation though, imagine how many women's lives would change if politicians and the administration's staff would personally reach out to these women by following the example of corporations, for example.

The proposed job creation has its merits but it falls short because it targets women of a specific socio-economic level: the poor. Abused women fall under numerous social and economic levels. Many of them are forced to accept their unfortunate situations because they have no other alternative. True, there are other measures available to women, but neglected loopholes force them to remain vulnerable.

Pessimism is never my goal. I understand that impressive progress has been made, but unfortunately it's not enough. This becomes a reality when you sit among abused women and learn their dire circumstances. Attempts to empower women have been made, but there are still thousands of women fretting over their next meal, their children's safety, as well as their own. Financial empowerment is the first step in alleviating their concerns. Dutifully passing laws and funding programs will not change their circumstances. Reaching out to these women in small, but impactful ways will.

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