the high cost of gender-based violence

A new study released by the International Center for Research on Women, titled “Intimate Partner Violence: High Costs to Households and Communities,” investigates the relationship between gender-based violence, household economic vulnerability and costs to public resources in three countries: Morocco, Uganda and Bangladesh.

Gender-based violence has a devastating impact on economic growth, affecting the livelihood of women, their households, and entire communities.  Victimization can force women to take unpaid leave from work, lower their ability to be productive, and force family members to change their work schedule, all of which can lead to a loss in earnings and community standing.

The data from this new study contributes to an expanding body of research demonstrating that violence against women impedes the development of a country both on a local and national scale. While economically and socially disparate, Morocco, Uganda and Bangladesh all have high rates of gender-based violence.  Two-thirds of respondents from Bangladesh and half from Uganda experienced physical violence. Sixty-one percent in Bangladesh and 47% in Uganda experienced sexual violence. These experiences of abuse are not isolated incidents either; in Morocco 46% of women experiencing physical abuse and 52% of women experiencing sexual abuse reported multiple episodes of violence.

And yet, women seek services through the health care system and/or the justice system at a much lower rate than reported prevalence. During the 12 month period in which the study was conducted, only 17% of women in Morocco and 10% in Bangladesh used health services as a result of abuse. Many factors contribute to this disparity including the high out of pocket costs for women, isolation of resources, and cultural attitudes endorsing gender-based violence.

Even under-accessed the cost of gender-based violence is enormous for individual households and communities.  In Uganda, a nationally representative study of hospitals estimated that the costs from treating victims of physical violence were about $1.2 million annually. In Bangladesh, women utilize the Salish, a community-based dispute resolution system, to seek justice from gender-based violence. The study found that 53% of cases arbitrated related to gender-based violence, costing approximately $17.5 million in rural areas and $6.14 million annually.

In developing nations, the indirect costs of gender-based violence – reduced productivity, inability to perform household tasks, and absenteeism from work – are absorbed by local businesses and can be crippling for their prosperity, and in turn the livelihood of the overall economy.  Using the average market wage rates, the study estimated that the value of work lost to a household per incident of violence was about $5 or 4.5% of the average monthly income of the households study.  Factor in that incidence of gender based violence is often not isolated and the financial burden to each household becomes monumental.

The bottom line is that women are silently experience violence and when they do seek services it effectively drains community resources.  Gender-based violence does more than cause injury and a laundry list of chronic health problems; the indirect costs of violence thwart the economic growth of families, communities, and entire countries.  Women are the key to solving the economic problems of developing nations. Beyond the clear violation of human rights, at some point, it becomes a simple matter of national self-interest.

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