Economic and Social Costs of GBV

Studies and calculations about the economic and social costs of GBV have been around for the past four decades. Beyond the debates around methodology and actual figures, these costing...

Studies and calculations about the economic and social costs of GBV have been around for the past four decades. Beyond the debates around methodology and actual figures, these costing exercises have contributed to raising the awareness about GBV as a phenomenon that reaches beyond victim and perpetrator independently of how and where the violence takes place. Indeed, GBV in context of conflict or natural disasters has been given a special status in the international community and the economic and social costs in these cases just begun to be understood.

Independently of the context and the type of GBV or the methodology used, the amounts researchers have come up with in all continents are staggering. The costs to the victims themselves are always the highest as not only their physical and mental integrity is violated during the experience of the violence, but has effects that can last a lifetime; personal and household property can also be destroyed or damaged; loss of income or food production due to lost days of both paid and unpaid work; if children are present their physical and mental integrity can also have lasting negative effects.

Indeed all of these effects have an impact on other members and institutions of society. In addition to police and judicial costs including processing and imprisonment of perpetrators, public health systems, welfare and social protection systems, education systems, employers (productivity, work accidents, missing days of work, etc.), extended family, community, etc. are also affected.

Given that most studies calculate between 2% up to 6% loss of annual GDP due to GBV depending on the country, the numbers alone beg the question of what efforts are being made and how much is being spent to prevent this grave human rights violation. According to the latest edition of Women, Business and the Law database and publication by the World Bank, 46 out of the 173 countries covered in their database still lack legislation that aims to address domestic violence.

According to the 2016 publication of Women, Business and the Law, “46 out of the 173 covered economies have yet to enact laws to address domestic violence (figure 1.14). Seven economies—Belgium, Canada, Estonia, Iceland, Morocco, the Netherlands and Tunisia—have no explicit laws on domestic violence but have addressed the issue by intensifying penalties when criminal offences are committed against spouses or within the family.”

It is notable however, that more and more countries recognize the need for such legislation and enactment of national strategies and plans to address and prevent it from happening. Nevertheless, a brief overview of reports, statistics, evaluations and research indicate that prevention is yet to be articulated and funded based on all the knowledge that we now have internationally and nationally about GBV and how it happens. This knowledge and the specific prevention measures that can be designed and implemented must be understood as a social investment with high returns not only in monetary terms, but in overall wellbeing and happiness to the world population.

What do we know about GBV? Studies and research point overwhelmingly to the intergenerational transmission of this phenomenon so that early education and detection among children and also among pregnant women is a first step. Moreover, sexual and physical abuse in the household or community setting can mobilize health, education and social workers to design and follow protocols for all pregnant women and small children. From a life cycle point of view, adolescent and college education about GBV can empower young men and women to detect and prevent GBV in their schools, places of worship and communities, especially within the social networks.

Engagement of the media and religious authorities to boost the awareness among the community at large is also needed, as part of the change will also entail changing stereotypes that entrench the intergenerational transmission of GBV.

Studies and research also point to specific behaviour of perpetrators that is repeated, be it in a household context or other contexts where women and children can become vulnerable to violence. In this case the prevention measures also start by making information available to potential victims and by designing protocols and measures that can quickly identify potential situations where they can fall victims to violence. In this regard some successful innovative practices in all continents are being tested such as databases on perpetrators used by police, smartphone applications, use of SMS and more traditional radio and television programmes or spots.

The full potential of these innovative initiatives need to be monitored and evaluated so that they can become generalised and funded for their full impact to be harnessed. For a number of these innovative practices, Un women offers some information on their own work and also work that is funded by the Trust Fund for Ending Violence Against Women.

We also know that the State has sometimes failed to protect women and that this has been considered by international courts of justice as a form of discrimination and thus States are liable for negligence and for violating international conventions that oblige them to address discrimination against women (namely the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women – or CEDAW). Thus, investment at the State level to prevent further harm to women who already have reported violence is needed. This entails mostly awareness and training of all State actors as well as the introduction of protocols to investigate GBV that ensure justice is delivered and monitoring and evaluation systems of legislation and specific measures derived from strategies or plans.

GBV is the most pervasive violation of human rights experienced by women everywhere and every day in every possible social context. The economic dimensions of this violation have been widely documented. Investment in prevention needs to be based on the knowledge that we have on how and where violence happens. Besides the three examples given here, many other known and proven facts about GBV can be used so that the cost of addressing the violence, including the most important areas of human suffering and death, can be eliminated through the efficient and effective use of resources.

Elizebeth Villagomez Spain

I am passionate about ending GBV because of its terrible lifetime effects on and diminishing of capabilities and opportunities of those who experience it.

Elizabeth Villagómez

Economic and Social Costs of GBV
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Elizabeth Villagómez

Elizabeth Villagomez, independent researcher and consultant, has been the Adviser for Economic Empowerment of Women UN Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean and was the first economic adviser at the institution in 2001 as part of UNIFEM. She holds a PhD in Economics. Her professional activity has developed in teaching and applied research in economics with a focus on gender issues. She has worked in Eastern and South East Europe, Middle East, Central Asia, South-east Asia, and the Pacific Islands for various UN agencies and other European and international organizations.
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