Why every woman should be a financial feminist

Lina AbiRafeh
8 min readMar 22, 2023

First of all, you’ve heard me howl about the huge gender gaps we face, and the centuries we need to bridge them. And the economic gender gap is one of the widest. We still face inequalities in pay, in promotions, in benefits, in opportunities, in investing, in savings, in pensions, and certainly in leadership. We’re dramatically under-represented at senior levels, just like we’re dramatically over-represented in the informal labor market. Oh and in unpaid care work. Those are viewed as part of “women’s role” — or so says the patriarchy, anyway.

Enter Tori Dunlap. She’s a global brand, a money expert who encourages women to fight the patriarchy and get rich. This is a message I can fully get behind!

Tori quite literally wrote the book on it. And, within about five minutes, it was a bestseller. What does that tell us?!

Tori’s message is this: Women can’t be free until they are financially free. Her story speaks to this freedom. She saved $100,000 by age 25, quit her corporate job, and now fights for our financial rights, helping over three million women. Why? Because, she says, having a financial education is a woman’s best form of protest.

Amen, sister.

And me? I still can hardly manage my money (yet!), but I’ve sorta been financial-feministing my whole life.

Somehow, I landed on Tori’s awesome podcast, Financial Feminist, and have been on the receiving end of all sorts of comments and connections and kudos ever since. So here’s a short summary of that rich conversation — hopefully the first of many!

Tori began the show by introducing my background, calling me “fucking incredible” — clearly it’s mutual! The conversation was animated, fueled by our shared passions for our work, and the intersections we share.

I began by talking about that moment, in a girl’s life, when you realize that the world doesn’t see you as equal. This might not be the case for all of us, but it certainly was for me. And I bet I’m not the only one. It’s painfully common. Unbearably ordinary. But totally unacceptable.

So, starting from that place of being viewed as less-than, I asked a lot of questions about the way things were — and why. I didn’t put a name to it, but I was angry at injustice. And, as a child of two warzones — Lebanon and Palestine — growing up in Saudi Arabia, I was already pretty confused about who I was, and what I was supposed to be. And even more confused about what women and girls are supposed to be.

My awakening happened at 14, in a high school classroom. There, I learned that women’s history is a history of violence. And that was it.

And there, I learned the word “feminist.” And that was it, too. I took on the cause of ending violence against women, and took on the label “feminist” as my identity, as my country, as my calling. And I’ve done nothing else since.

Until that moment, all the feelings of less-than, the injustice, the things I saw but could not understand — those things were like little angry balls I stored away in the pit of my stomach. In that classroom, my world was destroyed, because I realized that these little angry balls were not just mine to carry. They were a reflection of an entire global problem. Not just for me — for women and girls everywhere, at every time, from the fetus to the funeral.

And that was the explosion of my feminist consciousness. My anger finally had a name. And I had finally found my voice.

The geeky girl in the corner, the bullied kid, finally figured out where she belonged. Until then, I never felt like I fit in. I belonged nowhere. And it took me ages to leverage that to my advantage, to say that belonging nowhere means I can belong anywhere. And when I started working in the field, it was because that was my place, just as much as any other. And these women were my people, just as much as any other. More than that, these women were me.

As the bullied kid, I understood what it felt like to be discriminated against, to be the underdog. And those are the women I connect with the most, the ordinary women, left out of opportunities, without choice and voice and access to resources.

These women have dedicated their lives to simply surviving.

I realized rather quickly that I was in over my head, unable to achieve the impossible goals I had set for myself. I talked about my experience in Afghanistan and about twenty other countries, managing global problems that are so much bigger than us — the constant sense of overwhelm coupled with a near-zero success rate. How can I even make an impact on women’s lives when the challenges are so great?

I measure it in very small things — the microscopic stuff that we hardly see — like a comment from a woman whose life is just a tiny bit better, an email from a woman I’ll never meet about how my latest blog really touched her and changed the way she thinks.

That’s all we have.

And Tori, too. She spoke of micro-moments that move her — a time when a woman cried and told her that her life had changed for the better as a result of learning from Tori. That kind of stuff. The tiny — massive — stuff.

And that’s why our work is so important, and so incredibly similar. Because it’s painfully personal.

And that’s what Tori does in her business — show women that when they have enough money, they are stable, they are secure, and they are safe. And then, every single thing in our life changes. We can’t fight gender inequality on empty bellies.

When I worked with survivors of rape around the world, they always said a similar thing. They asked for money, for economic support, for financial security. This money gives them power to control their own life choices, buy their freedom, and ensure their safety. Women with resources aren’t immune to violence, of course, but they’ve got better chances of getting out of violent situations if they’ve got resources.

I learned this lesson very early, in a rather atypical feminist upbringing. Around age seven, my dad sat me down and said:

I’m going to ask you a question today. And I’m going to ask you the same question every day. And you’re going to give me the same answer every day until you really understand what it means.

And he asked: Lina, what is the most important thing for a woman?

Well, I was only seven, what did I know?!

He said: The answer is “financial independence.” Repeat it. And then I’ll tell you why.

Financial independence means that you have the power to control your own choices. You have the skill to fend for yourself. You have no need to depend on anybody. You can get out of situations you don’t want to be in. You have the ability to land on your feet. And even if you never use it, you have it, you carry it with you. And no one can ever take it away.

And now I’m almost 50. And I really understand what that means — not just for me, but for all women. Tori’s financial feminism embodies that spirit.

And now I also understand what it means to have devoted my life and my career — my head, my hands, my heart — to the nonprofit sector. There comes a time — or so it did with me — when I decided to recognize my own worth, and to ask for it.

Putting my own oxygen mask on first.

This doesn’t change my dedication to this work. It amplifies it. I’m now looking for other avenues to drive change forward faster. Because we aren’t moving in the right direction. And I’m still just as angry.

Tori and I spoke about anger, how women’s anger makes people uncomfortable, and how that anger can be used as a powerful tool to motivate us, and to drive our work forward. Ultimately — to build a better world.

For me, anger is a catalyst for my activism. It is the cumulative effect of the microaggressions we experience everyday. The little things, the little moments, that sit in our stomach with nowhere to go. The pebbles that build up and form a rock and a boulder and a mountain.

A mountain built on anger at injustice. And then I think, if this is my experience, what might it be for others. And so the mountain grows. And starts to rumble.

When we look around, pay attention, open our eyes, and see things through the lived experience of women, we can never unsee it. And we never forget it. If we’ve seen it, we’re ignited, we’re alive, and we are compelled to act. It’s impossible not to.

If we’re not angry, we’re asleep.

When I see the world through the lens of women’s safety — or lack thereof — I wonder, how can we not be angry?! How can we sit back and allow this to happen to us, to each other, on our watch, in our lifetime? I cannot.

It might not be violence against women that drives someone else’s anger. It was for me, but for others it might be the environment, or racial injustice, or any social issue. But there’s going to be one thing that does it for you. One thing that hits you like a punch in the stomach. One thing you cannot tolerate, cannot accept. One thing that crosses your personal red line. Find that thing, find your line, step up and defend it.

And recognize that we don’t have to go far to do good. We can all step up and start where we stand. We can start in our own lives, homes, communities. We can live our values and, as we so often say, “be the change.” But we’ve got to “be the change” so often and so powerfully that it becomes the default. The change must become the norm.

I wonder how something like wearing a seatbelt became standard practice. How did that message get across, and infiltrate society? I remember a time when seatbelts were optional. Now they are non-negotiable. So, behavior change is possible. But what triggers it? What’s the moment? The recipe? The secret sauce?

How does a practice become so ingrained, so mainstreamed, that it is an automated practice, so much so that we no longer even notice? I can’t even imagine getting into a car without automatically reaching for the belt. My arm does it without my brain recognizing it.

That’s what I want for women’s rights, safety, freedom. Something so deeply ingrained in our practice that it becomes the universal standard.

We’re getting better, I think. We are paying attention. We understand that we are more connected — to our communities, societies, countries, the world. To each other. We share similar problems — even if they don’t look exactly the same. Our wars and crises — and pandemics — don’t stay neatly confined within their borders. We are connected, whether we like it or not. And we must learn to care for each other.

With that momentous task before us, I still think it’s about the small stuff. It’s about what we can do today, with the space that we have. We don’t have to go far to do good.

What’s the alternative? For me, nothing. Action is the only option. Paralysis is not a response.

And Tori works the same way.

It’s the ripple effect, she says. You help her, and she helps someone else, and slowly the community will change. And slowly the world starts to change.

Financial Feminists in conversation — having a chat and changing the world

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Lina AbiRafeh

Global women's rights activist, author, speaker, aid worker with 3 decades of global experience - and lots to say! More on my website: www.LinaAbiRafeh.com