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This month, our board member and entrepreneur Rachel Hindson and our Employability Co-ordinator Jan Ferguson, discuss the impact of women affected by domestic abuse going into business for themselves…


Releasing Potential…


This month, our board member and entrepreneur Rachel Hindson and our Employability Co-ordinator Jan Ferguson, discuss the impact of women affected by domestic abuse going into business for themselves…

Releasing Potential…

Imagine adding billions to the growth of Scotland’s economy and being part of a wider movement to close the entrepreneurial gender gap? All while choosing to put your family and yourself first by finding a fulfilling career path? It sounds great but starting a business doesn’t come without challenges and confusion over where to turn to for advice, especially for those emerging from experiences of domestic abuse.

Thanks to Works 4 Women (Edinburgh Women’s Aid’s employability service run in partnership with Shakti Women’s Aid) women who have experienced domestic abuse are being guided and empowered to go into business for themselves.

The case for gender specific business support is not just an economic one – though the financial benefits do help – but rather, the payoffs for the wider community and families can be huge and are often underestimated. Cataloguing financial performance is far easier to do in a spreadsheet than the many anecdotes of how women-led businesses give back to their communities.

Take, for example, Laila (not her real name) who moved to the UK where after years of abuse from her husband, she contacted Shakti for support. Laila divorced her husband and to support herself and the children, she decided to open her own salon. But this wouldn’t be any ordinary hair salon. Laila wanted it to appeal to Muslim women who felt unable to remove their hijab in public – quite a restriction in modern hair salons with large windows onto busy streets. Laila wanted a salon with private areas where women could relax among other women, remove their hijabs and get new haircuts. She was very focused on her goals and got referred to Works 4 Women for support.

Or Ellie, who had very clear goals which combined her considerable background in catering/hospitality, her adaptable skills in running businesses, and her experiences of domestic abuse. She wanted to open a café, which would operate along the principles of social enterprise. She planned to do this in three ways. Firstly, she would divert some profits into domestic abuse support by donating to charities in the sector. Secondly, she wanted to offer her café as a space for women who had experienced DA to meet, chat, combat any social isolation, and get discounted coffees etc. Thirdly, her bigger plan was to employ women who had experienced DA to offer them routes to financial security.

That’s not to say the path to starting their businesses was easy.

Ask any business owner what the greatest barrier to starting up or growth is and quite often they’ll say it’s finance. But for women, especially those affected by domestic abuse, the financial barriers can be even greater and made worse by gender stereotyping.

As reported in The Domestic Abuse Report 2019: The Economics of Abuse, of 72 survivors who were surveyed, results found that:
• Nearly a third (31.9%) of respondents said their access to money during the relationship was controlled by the perpetrator
• A quarter of respondents said that their partner did not let them have money for essentials during the relationship
• A third of respondents had to give up their home as a result of the abuse or leaving the relationship and nine found themselves homeless as a result of leaving
• 43.1% of respondents told the researchers they were in debt as a result of the abuse and over a quarter regularly lost sleep through worrying about debt
• 56.1% of the sample who had left a relationship with an abuser felt that the abuse had impacted their ability to work and over two fifths of all respondents felt the abuse had negatively impacted their long-term employment prospects/earnings.

When business loans so often have to be secured against assets, it can be impossible for survivors of financial abuse to access the funding they need to get their business idea off the ground. Fortunately, W4W have been able to support women such as Laila and Ellie with business grants and signpost them to other business support agencies offering funding.

While financial aid is enormously beneficial, Works 4 Women can make a difference by ensuring advice and meetings are set up with female business support advisors. Ellie and Laila were referred on to Women’s Business Mentoring through the Scottish Chamber of Commerce. Making sure women who have been affected by domestic abuse feel comfortable talking about their plans is vital to their success.

Experiences of female entrepreneurs being asked by a bank manager if their husband approves and can also be a signatory on the account are still not uncommon. The fact that in 2011, the Oxford Dictionary deemed it necessary to publish the word, ‘mumpreneur’ for the first time also indicates that a women’s entrance into entrepreneurship is gendered in a way it would never be for men. Businesses set up to work from home or in and around childcare commitments are no less a valid business and for some women who access our W4W project, this is the only option to help them gain financial independence while looking after their families.

Supporting women in business via tailored gender specific has the power to contribute to a 32% increase in Scotland’s business base. By focusing on the needs of our users, our W4W project plays no small part in reaching this wider goal which would surely benefit everyone in society, and who can argue with that?


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