27 January 2013

Rwanda: The Breadth and Depth of Economic Cost of Gender-Based Violence


As the struggle to fight gender-based violence (GBV) has remained steadfast, activism needs to go further than awareness campaigns - changes should be implemented through economic, social and development policy and the full costs of GBV need to be measured and recognized.

GBV is any harm that is perpetrated against a person's will; that has a negative impact on the physical or psychological health, development, and identity of the person. It may include physical violence such as rape and other sexual assault like threat, harassment, stalking, trafficking, forced services like prostitution, pre-birth sex selection, etc. Another form of GBV that is often ignored is the 'economic violence', where the abuser has complete control over the victim's money and other resources. Each culture has its own form of GBV.

Most recent activism has centred on the social costs of GBV, but what about the economic costs? How does GBV impact on economic development? And is there a way for economic development policies to make proactive gains on eliminating GBV?

Statistically, Rwanda's situation is not that much alarming although figures are still very high. According to statistics provided by police department in charge of fighting GBV in Rwanda, in September 2012, the total GBV cases reported across the country were 322 compared to 270 GBV cases reported in October of the same year. Although GBV statistics are scanty, under-reported and difficult to measure in terms of cost in Rwanda, there is evidence that suggests that GBV effects on our society are enormous.

Studies across the globe have highlighted that, intimate partner and sexual crime violence are the major contributor to women's ill-health in many countries. Economic loss as a result of GBV is estimated to be 7% of Fiji GDP and equal to $1.2 billion in New Zealand, $1.6 billion in Canada, €30 billion in UK and $5.8 billion in USA each year. Economically, these figures speak volumes and if so, where does these startling figures leave us?

GBV incidents generate economic costs to the individual, the family, community and wider society, as well as the nation; if GBV is reduced, there are benefits and increased costs if it's not. For instance, violence within the family will inevitably result into expenses incurred or foregone for health care, consumption costs, or lost education and working hours, including suffering of children and extended family members. Matters become worse if the GBV victim is the sole bread-winner. When the violence is committed by a stranger - fellow employee, the economic cost affects the wider community, leading to generalized fear of violence, increased pressure on health services or policing with flow on costs for the justice systems.

The economic cost of GBV can be estimated by measuring direct tangible and intangible costs. Direct tangible costs are actual expenses incurred or money spent as a result of a GBV incidence, they include, taxi fare to hospital, medical expenses, social/family service and criminal justice system costs (police, courts, prisons, and additional security measures) etc. These costs can be estimated by measuring the goods and services consumed and multiplied by their unit cost.

In India, a woman loses an average of at least 5 paid work days for each incident of intimate partner violence, while in Uganda, about 9% of violent incidents forced women to lose time from paid work, amounting to approximately 11 days a year.

GBV victims also suffer from direct intangible costs that have no monetary value. They include pain and suffering as well as emotional loss of a loved one through a violent death.

Indirect tangible cost is another form of GBV cost that has monetary value and can be measured as a loss of potential. For instance, loss of income and lower productivity for victims and perpetrators as well as lower tax revenues. For example, lost personal income can be estimated by measuring lost time multiplied by appropriate wage rate. Lost opportunities have economic costs for both the victim and the entire community.

Indirect intangible costs are also indirect violence incidents that have no monetary value. For example, children who witness violence are more likely to have emotional and negative psychological problems that may harm their well-being and development.

In Uganda, about 9% of violent incidents forced women to lose time from paid work, amounting to approximately 11 days a year.

All the above estimated costs are profound and tip of the iceberg due to underreporting of violence. The breadth and depth of the economic cost of GBV is far reaching and a major economic drag. Bringing attention to this high cost of violence can encourage anti- violence initiatives and hence free up resources that can be used in other productive economic activities.

Economic development will always be hampered as long as GBV remains rampant and the whole society will continue to pay for the costs of not addressing this pressing social concern. The sooner Rwanda continues to introduce and re-enforce anti-GBV policies and programs, the sooner it will reduce her economic costs to the society and reap long term benefits.

The author is a Gender Expert

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