About Felicity Guest
Felicity Guest is a financial abuse specialist whose focus-area is child maintenance.
Through her work, Felicity creates awareness to the systemic inequalities and marginalisation of women and advocates for social justice and the protection of women and children.
An important objective is to bring financial abuse into mainstream awareness alongside all other forms of gender-based violence (GBV) as a form of Domestic Violence.
Through maintenance coaching, speaking engagements and providing women with various online resources, Felicity empowers them to become independent in their own financial decision-making for their and their children’s financial security.
Felicity facilitates various workshops which focus on economic and financial abuse as a form of domestic and GBV, as well as maintenance workshops and co-parenting workshops.
Felicity founded a Facebook group “Child Maintenance Difficulties in South Africa” in 2014 to provide a free platform for women and mothers to become educated and informed on their children’s rights to financial support. Through the group, Felicity shares financial knowledge and gives access to various financially empowering services for women. Currently, the private Facebook group has almost 70 000 members.
13 April 2019 – Felicity Guest speaks at a GBV Protest with COPE and Alvina Spike (Mitchell’s Plain)
A brief Introduction to my advocacy against Financial abuse
My own journey started ten years ago which I refer to as entering the dark underbelly of the justice system which started when I asked for a divorce in 2010 and culminated in a fraudulent divorce. This was set aside and my divorce eventually went through after two years. I then entered into the maintenance system and I spent days in the maintenance courts and my experience was that the courts are dysfunctional and women experience systemic and systemic abuse and the best interests of the child are not paramount. In July 2014 I started a Facebook group, Child Maintenance Difficulties in South Africa, to support other women going through the system which has over 66 000 members of which 83% are women.
How my knowledge on financial abuse developed
I started using social media to create awareness and it was a natural transition into advocacy. I became an ardent researcher; I needed to verify the patterns and elements I was noticing, I researched the Maintenance Act, the Bill of rights, the Children’s Act. The Department of Justice, their NSP’s the annual reports, portfolio committee meetings, precedents in the Con court, Appeal court and High court to do with maintenance and the courts. I researched poverty, including historic political influences, I researched economic abuse and gender based violence and my observations of all the intersections were affirmed. The most researched and documented form of financial abuse is within a relationship, it is a major contributing factor to women staying in abusive relationship. It is my logical conclusion that the financial abuse does not cease when they do eventually leave, it changes.
What was startling was that there was no advocacy; there was nobody else seeing what I was seeing. There are anecdotal references and research on specific aspects and some intersections but not an overarching understanding of the magnitude and intersections. I am the only person who advocates on financial abuse post relationship in South Africa, and to my knowledge globally.
The unanimous opinions of the higher courts is; that the maintenance courts are legally mandated and structured to deal specifically with maintenance, unless one can afford legal representation one does not get justice in the maintenance courts, the department is under resourced and the staff is disinterested, under trained and don’t enforce the maintenance act to the detriment of women and children, there is no understanding of the intersections and dire impacts of the dysfunctional maintenance courts.
There are many layers and impacts on mothers and children not getting financial support. Intentionally not supporting one’s child is child neglect and abuse and it should be a priority of the Department of Justice to enforce maintenance.
Historic gender roles and norms are still very prevalent, men being the providers and women the caretakers in spite of the landscape changing fundamentally.
From my observations and research on my group maintenance is often used to coerce, manipulate and punish the mother which has a direct impact on the child whether the parents were married, living together or had a causal relationship, children become collateral damage. Most men still benefit from economic privilege, they have higher paid jobs, higher employment rate, less unpaid labour; money is the most powerful tool to abuse women post relationship and there is not enough research on this aspect of financial abuse. In fact there is uncertainty in academia and civil society organisations if economic abuse and financial abuse are the same or different as they are used interchangeably. I believe financial abuse is a form of economic abuse and not the same, it requires a specific legal definition as it is currently interpreted by individuals and clouded with their own understanding from their own bias which makes the application and enforcement difficult.
Financial abuse is not considered a severe form of domestic violence and therefore not given the same attention as other better known forms of abuse, it is a silent but devastating form of gender based violence, it is seldom done in isolation and it is normalised. The historic gender roles and economic exclusion of women still has deep rooted implications for women and children.
I made submissions to the GBV steering committee unsolicited, who were drafting the National Strategic Plan out of concern of the inclusion and understanding of the impacts of financial abuse, of which some were included in the final draft. On receiving the draft I was disappointed with the limited inclusion and understanding of financial abuse particularly through maintenance.
The link to poverty
There are over 13million children who receive child grants of R460, approximately 70 % of 19million children grow up without their fathers who pay little or no child support according to the latest figures from Stats SA. The abject food poverty base line is R624pm per person; it is obvious that the child grant of R460 is insufficient to provide children with the absolute basic necessities to reach their full potential as prescribed in the constitution. The most vulnerable and marginalised are being pushed further into poverty from which they will probably never escape, women in the lower and middle income groups are becoming poorer as they battle to provide for their children on their own against rising food, housing and education costs. If the government were to enforce maintenance if would be go some way in achieving their commitment of alleviating poverty by 2030.
Mothers are dependent on family and friends to assist them in providing the absolute basic requirements for their children; children are dependent on community and school feeding programs for their only meal and it was no more obvious that when South Africa went into lockdown and children were unable to attend school for most of 2020, it exposed their vulnerability and dependency.
The Covid pandemic revealed many masks, the irony is that some masks were not protecting citizens but used to hide the systemic and systematic failures. Family courts were open but accessing them was difficult due to outbreaks and lockdown regulations, had the courts been digitised access would have been immediate and safe as it was in other countries. Covid certainly had many casualties but there were many who used lockdown as an excuse not to attend court or to pay maintenance. The Department of Justice itself was perpetuating injustice by not resolving unpaid maintenance garnisheed for up to seven months while the money was accumulating interest in their bank account, mothers had to borrow money to get to court and were constantly told the system is down without any resolutions offered. There were several protests held at the East London court, including mine. On my return to Cape Town we served the department with legal notice giving them 7 days to resolve the problems otherwise we would launch a class action, payments were mostly resolved within 3 weeks.
The was a maintenance relief benefit for a six month period but instead of the onus being placed on the person who is meant to pay maintenance to apply, it was placed on the primary parent who already does most of the unpaid labour, not just in trying to enforce maintenance but also in child care. The primary parent had to secure food under extremely difficult circumstance, had to provide education for those fortunate enough to have access to on line schooling, most of the learners were not able to due to the schools being under resourced as well as the parents not having internet access. The mothers who were fortunate enough to work from home had to work, facilitate education, provide meals and do the normal parenting duties without physical and financial assistance from the father, the unequal responsibilities exposed.
Awareness, advocacy and research on financial abuse is critical to have lasting impact on gender inequality and lesson the scourge of gender based violence in South Africa.