If the physical and emotional suffering caused by gender-based violence wasn’t horrific enough, what makes it even worse is that it also has significant economic costs. Research suggests that the cost of violence against women could amount to up to 2% of the global GDP.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that one in three women globally experience either physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Affecting women of all socio-economic backgrounds, in both developing and developed countries, this global cataclysm has been estimated to cost more than double of what most governments spend on education (up to 3.7% of their GDP).
Women who have been victims of gender-based violence are directly affected by the loss of income they suffer. The impact, however, is not short-term. Studies show that women who have been exposed to severe partner violence earn 60% less than women who are not.
Worse, consequently, these women are forced to be less productive, impacting their career advancement, and must bear the costs of the services needed to help them deal with this violence.
According to UN Women, in Vietnam, the direct costs of domestic violence amounts to 21% of women’s monthly income and, in Papua, New Guinea each staff member, on average, loses 11 days of work a year due to gender-based violence.
With businesses in Peru collectively losing over 70 million workdays due to partner violence in 2013, equivalent to 3.7% of the GDP, it exemplifies how violence against women affects the economy as a whole; lowering productivity and profitability, and increasing health costs, absenteeism, and HR expenses.
Aggrandising women’s financial contributions as well as providing a means to prevent and escape abusive relationships are important ways to reduce the levels of both physical and psychological abuse.
However, in some cases, women’s economic empowerment can also lead to increased risk of gender-based violence, especially in countries with high gender discrimination and inflexible gender norms.
Steps towards women empowerment in such countries can lead to a backlash in the form of violence. For example, a baseline study conducted in India for a Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) reduction program found that financially stable women were more likely to report domestic and public violence than women who were not earning or controlling their incomes.
While violence against women is considered one of the most prevalent human rights issues globally, we must take further initiatives to stem this issue which has such significant costs.
We need more initiatives like the IMAGE program, a multi-sectoral alliance addressing poverty and gender inequality to reduce South Africa’s risk of HIV and gender-based violence for women, that has been able to showcase a 55% reduction in intimate-partner violence in two years.
We must start measuring the impact of programs on the reduction in gender-based violence and expanding those that have shown results.
Furthermore, we need businesses to step in. By providing gender-based training as well as confidentiality and support, companies can commit to gender equality. With a recent report from the American Psychological Association (APA) stating that only 32% of working Americans stated that their employers provide new steps to prevent and address sexual harassment, which calls for companies and organisations to step up to the occasion.
While a lot of organisations do provide safe spaces for women to express their concerns, talking in large groups may not provide all women with the comfort to express their concerns, especially if they are concerned about confidentiality.
We need more one-on-one counselling sessions with experts if we truly want to uncover and address issues.
Having more women in higher authority positions may also benefit the companies and organisations to come up with solutions for violence against women and to create a space where women feel comfortable.
Health systems can also help by being attentive and doing regular screenings, to bring unreported cases to light. A report by Livemint stated that about 99% of sexual violence cases in India go unreported.
Health workers are in a position where they can help and empower these women by doing screenings and asking the patients questions frequently to be able to understand if there is a problem, and then provide support by referring potential victims to available community resources, such as specialised police units and violence and assault response teams.
One example is of the Medical College of Pennsylvania, where after the introduction of training and protocols on violence, the proportion of female patients found to be abused increased from 6% to 30%.
It’s time we take steps to address the numerous economic implications of gender-based violence. It’s important to do so because it places weighty costs on everyone, from individuals and households to businesses and societies, and is a clear obstruction in achieving gender equality.