The cost of violence against Women – a cost we can no longer afford

Article Date

26 November 2014

Article Author

Stella Mukasa

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

I was privileged to present testimony at the Global Tribunal on Women’s Human Rights held in conjunction with the U.N. World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993, on behalf of a woman who had survived a gruesome incident of domestic violence in Uganda.  So when the conference came to a close, I was one of the millions of women that celebrated the achievements of the global campaign on women’s rights as human rights.  Among the significant achievements was the recognition of violence against women as a violation of women’s human rights and major obstacle to their enjoyment of rights on an equal basis with men.

Reflecting on that campaign at its 21st anniversary, it was a watershed in efforts to prevent and respond to violence against women around the world. To date, violence against women and girls is recognized as a public health issue. Further — both programming and research demonstrate that violence against women and girls is not only a human right or public health concern, but an economic and development issue that impacts social harmony, economic growth and threatens global development gains.

The immediate costs of violence to the individual woman or girl are enormous and have significant ripple effects throughout society. Violence against women affects households and communities through missing work – paid and unpaid – leads to poor physical and mental health status, and poor reproductive outcomes.

In a study we published in 2009, we found that in Morocco, women’s out-of-pocket expenses for seeking help one time from the justice system is $274, and the cost to medical providers offering one-time service to women is $196. Additionally, in Bangladesh where rates of intimate partner violence are as high as 31 percent, the economic cost due to productivity loss is $262 million – that is 1.28 percent of the GPD.

Violence against women and girls leads to significant financial strain on all of society. It poses a major burden on the health care system and social support services, the justice system, the business community through loss of economic output – and expenditures incurred by national and local non-government organizations that provide programs and services to prevent and respond to violence.

In the long-term, violence against women and girls affects their educational opportunities, the ability to strengthen their skills and to grow within the workforce, contributes to chronic illnesses, and ultimately death. It is a gross violation of human rights and a fundamental obstacle to achieving gender equality and eradicating global poverty.

Analyses of direct and indirect costs of violence against women and girls have mostly been limited to developed countries. Available estimates of costs of intimate partner violence from developing countries are few and far between. Moreover they vary in both the type of cost measured, and the methods applied. Challenges of assessing the economic and social costs of violence in developing countries include lack of reliable data, under-reporting, limited visibility of violence due to inadequate distribution of services and social-cultural constraints including silence on the issue. There are also complications related to measuring the economic and social costs of violence against women and girls within conflict-affected settings.

To address these challenges, ICRW has been working with partners to understand the incidence of violence against women globally, costs associated with it and factors that lead to it. In 2009, with support from UNFPA, ICRW and partners published a report from a three-country study, which measured the economic costs of intimate partner violence at the household and community levels, where it’s impact is more direct and immediate. The findings provide important insights on the action and resources needed to address intimate partner violence.

Building on this evidence, ICRW and Ipsos Mori – part of the National University of Ireland, Galway-led consortium funded bythe U.K. Department for International Development (DIFID) will embark on a new study, collecting data in at least three countries to measure the economic and social costs of violence against women and girls in developing countries. The project will build on existing available data to adapt a conceptual framework and to develop empirical methods, both quantitative and qualitative, for measuring the economic and social costs of violence consistently, at individual, household, sectoral and national levels.

The primary objectives of this work is to generate knowledge and evidence on the economic and social costs of violence against women and girls to be used to inform policies and to advance the frontier in quantitative and qualitative research methods.

Strong evidence on the economic and social costs of violence against women is crucial to underscore the significant consequences of inaction. Evidence on the wide-ranging economic and social costs can influence governments, donors, NGOs and the private sector to increase investment, strengthen global and national policy and improve collaboration to address violence against women and girls.

It’s been 21 years since Vienna, we can no longer afford to wait. If the world does not address the issue, it stands to suppress the enormous potential of women and girls. Violence is preventable. We need to invest in research to find evidence-based solutions that point a clear path to what is most effective in designing policies that bring about significant and long-lasting results.

When women and girls are safe, they are better able to participate in the job market, care for their families and take part in the political life of their communities. Ensuring that the basic human rights of women and girls are honored, means flourishing economies, healthy communities – it means a brighter future for us all.