Lizl Budhram, Head of Advice at Old Mutual Personal Finance
In the shadow of South Africa’s pervasive gender-based violence crisis, financial independence emerges as a vital tool for survivors who want to break free from abusive relationships.
Lizl Budhram, Head of Advice at Old Mutual Personal Finance, says that as we enter the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence, the role of financial empowerment is pivotal in dismantling the chains that bind victims.
“Breaking away from an abusive relationship necessitates more than sheer courage; it demands a meticulously crafted plan, with financial independence serving as the linchpin for those seeking liberation,” says Budhram. “Stepping out of the door of gender-based violence requires not only courage but also financial preparedness to navigate the challenges of securing accommodation, transportation, and covering a myriad of other costs.”
She says that money, wielded as a potent tool by perpetrators, often becomes a source of control and anguish for victims. Means, whether through mental or physical abuse, are systematically stripped away, leaving survivors unable to make independent decisions or provide for themselves.
The absence of financial empowerment perpetuates a cycle of dependence and helplessness. The 16 Days of Activism, spanning from November 25th to December 10th, marks an international campaign against gender-based violence, drawing attention to the profound impact of access to money on the monumental decision to break away from an abusive relationship.
Gender-based violence, deeply rooted in South African society, extends beyond the immediate acts of violence, manifesting in various forms such as physical, emotional, psychological, financial, or structural harm.
Budhram says, “Financial confidence becomes a crucial element in empowering victims. Understanding money, making financial decisions, and comprehending taxes emerge as an essential skill set. This confidence allows survivors to seek assistance for their financial matters and provides a crucial bridge to independence.”
Expert advice is critical
Seeking professional help, encompassing mental, financial, and legal counselling, becomes imperative for those navigating these challenges. The complexities vary for each victim of gender-based violence, particularly in terms of marital status, especially those married in community of property.
“Whether survivors leave a relationship or contemplate the financial feasibility of doing so, financial advisers can be vital allies. Advisers can help survivors understand their financial situation, build confidence in budget management, and provide the necessary guidance to take charge of their economic well-being,” she said.
Firstly, for individuals at the point of leaving an abusive relationship, immediate financial considerations become paramount. This includes managing personal finances, budgeting for new living arrangements, and possibly transportation needs. In such situations, a financial adviser can provide invaluable assistance.
“They can help craft a budget, manage finances, and build confidence in one’s financial abilities, which is crucial for those doubting their capacity to handle their finances independently,” she says.
The second pathway addresses those still in the relationship but contemplating departure. Here, the financial adviser’s role is to confidentially assist in building up finances and confidence, empowering the individual to leave the relationship eventually. An essential aspect of this process is ensuring the privacy and protection of the individual’s financial information and savings. This consideration is vital, given the potential fear of repercussions if the abusive partner discovers these preparations.
The path to empowerment
Practical steps are recommended for survivors to regain control over their finances. Budhram advises victims to start with a realistic financial means assessment, understanding their income and potential earnings.
She says establishing control over daily, weekly, and monthly budgets provides a foundation for financial stability and empowerment. Once this immediate control is achieved, attention can be directed towards long-term financial plans, including considerations for children, retirement, and wills.
The next step is to find an adviser who understands individual needs and provides the necessary support. Tools such as the ‘Find An Adviser’ tool on the Old Mutual website (www.oldmutual.co.za/personal/find-adviser/) and financial guidelines on the Old Mutual website offer valuable resources for those seeking assistance.
She says it’s essential to choose an adviser who prioritises clear communication and openness, avoiding technical jargon and ensuring customers fully grasp explanations, fostering trust. Additionally, a good adviser will offer a balanced perspective that outlines both the benefits and drawbacks of financial decisions and products, which is crucial for customers to make well-informed choices. Finally, trusting your gut and establishing a personal connection and trust, akin to choosing a doctor, is as vital as the adviser’s professional expertise.
Overall, Budhram underscores the critical importance of maintaining financial independence. “It’s impossible when you go into a relationship to predict if the relationship is going to be abusive, so it’s important to never entirely sacrifice your financial independence. It is imperative to always ensure you are financially empowered and have adequate finances available. You must understand how to manage money and never completely give that power to somebody else.”