How vi­o­lence can im­pact econ­omy

Women’s lim­ited eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties linked to cy­cle of abuse, writes

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

VI­O­LENCE against women and girls (VAW) is not only a hu­man rights is­sue: it is a bar­rier to eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment and erad­i­cat­ing poverty.

When women be­come vic­tims of vi­o­lence – eco­nomic, phys­i­cal or emo­tional – their abil­ity to cre­ate eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties is se­verely cur­tailed. Ex­pec­ta­tions of how to be­have, no­tions of mas­culin­ity and “strong” males as well as deal­ing with the af­ter-ef­fects of a vi­o­lent in­ter­ac­tion all limit her abil­ity to make the most of eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties.

In 2012, Gen­der Links found that 77% of women in Lim­popo, 51% in Gaut­eng, 45% in the Western Cape and 36% in KwaZu­luNatal had ex­pe­ri­enced some form of gen­der-based vi­o­lence (GBV).

It is widely recog­nised that women’s eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment is a pre­req­ui­site for sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment. Yet young South African women are al­ready marginalised from eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties. More than half of South Africa’s youth are un­em­ployed and youth unem­ploy­ment is al­most dou­ble the unem­ploy­ment rate of 27.7%, ac­cord­ing to Stats South Africa.

Statis­ti­cian-gen­eral, Pali Le­hohla, re­cently said that young peo­ple be­tween the ages of 15 to 24 re­main vul­ner­a­ble in the labour mar­ket with an unem­ploy­ment rate of close to 56%. This trans­lates to about 3.3 mil­lion young peo­ple be­tween 15 to 24 years of age with­out em­ploy­ment and other eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Their plight is deep­ened by a low eco­nomic growth which means more po­si­tions are be­ing frozen within the work­place with lim­ited skills for en­trepreneur­ship. Women ex­pe­ri­ence chal­lenges in vir­tu­ally ev­ery as­pect of the econ­omy.

Add into this mix the chal­lenge of gen­der-based vi­o­lence and women are fur­ther pushed away from the op­por­tu­ni­ties for growth. Not tack­ling vi­o­lence against women has a huge op­por­tu­nity cost – not only for the women who are sur­vivors of such out­rages but also for the coun­try’s econ­omy. VAW comes at a cost to women, their fam­i­lies, their com­mu­ni­ties and their coun­tries.

The World Bank’s, pres­i­dent, Jim Yong Kim, noted that GBV can cost as much as 3.7% of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP).

KPMG’s re­port “Too costly to ig­nore – the eco­nomic im­pact of gen­der-based vi­o­lence in South

Africa” con­ser­va­tively es­ti­mated that gen­der-based vi­o­lence costs South Africa be­tween R28.4 bil­lion and R42.4bn a year – or be­tween 0.9% and 1.3% of GDP an­nu­ally. This huge fi­nan­cial cost ex­cludes the per­sonal cost borne by the sur­vivors of vi­o­lence.

The Cen­tre for the Study of VI­o­lence and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion’s (CSVR) 2016 re­search Gen­der-Based Vi­o­lence (GBV) in South Africa: A Brief Re­view notes that lack of eco­nomic in­de­pen­dence among women is a key driver of GBV as they strug­gle to leave abu­sive re­la­tion­ships due to their eco­nomic de­pen­dence.

“The cur­rent South African so­cial and eco­nomic con­di­tions, in­clud­ing the im­pact of the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis, make it dif­fi­cult for many men to achieve ‘com­plete’ mas­culin­ity, such as se­cur­ing jobs, mar­ry­ing, fa­ther­ing chil­dren or es­tab­lish­ing their own house­holds,” notes CSVR, adding that in this con­text GBV be­comes a prom­i­nent mech­a­nism through which to re­in­force male power and au­thor­ity.

Vi­o­lence not only drains re­sources that can be used for growth, but also had the ad­di­tional costs of cop­ing with such vi­o­lence. It means shift­ing scarce re­sources to deal with the costs of such in­ter­ven­tions rather than, for ex­am­ple, sup­port women’s em­pow­er­ment pro­grammes.

And, even if we think vi­o­lence against women does not im­pact on us, tax­pay­ers share a col­lec­tive bur­den of pay­ing for the costs of deal­ing with VAW. The costs of vi­o­lence are di­rect and in­di­rect, as well an op­por­tu­nity cost where we might be de­prived of choices we don’t even re­alise are avail­able.

For ex­am­ple, the UN Pop­u­la­tion Fund act­ing ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Natalia Kanem, says Africa can ex­pect a de­mo­graphic div­i­dend when we cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for ev­ery­one to par­tic­i­pate in the econ­omy. She de­scribes the de­mo­graphic div­i­dend as the eco­nomic boost that hap­pens in a coun­try when you have more peo­ple in pro­duc­tive work­ing ages em­ployed and con­tribut­ing to the econ­omy com­pared to the cat­e­gories of young peo­ple or el­derly who are de­pen­dants in eco­nomic terms.

“You have to equip peo­ple to be able to be pro­duc­tive mem­bers of a so­ci­ety, and this means ed­u­ca­tion is very im­por­tant. Ado­les­cent girls, in par­tic­u­lar, should be equipped to reach their po­ten­tial by pro­vid­ing ed­u­ca­tion of cer­tain types of skills or train­ing,” said Kanem.

Kanem noted that young women are of­ten left out of the pic­ture when it comes to eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment.

This is par­tic­u­larly true when we dis­re­gard the need to en­sure that women are in­cluded in the econ­omy and en­sure that they are able to ac­cess eco­nomic ben­e­fits.

Vi­o­lence against women does not just drain lim­ited re­sources in the econ­omy. VAW fur­ther marginalises women from eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties, in­creases poverty and per­pet­u­ates a cy­cle of eco­nomic de­pen­dence that makes women re­luc­tant to leave their abusers.

We must help women grab eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties if we truly want to break the cy­cle of abuse and make in­roads against poverty.

Em­pow­er­ing young women is not a quick and easy task but re­quires a holis­tic ap­proach, good poli­cies and po­lit­i­cal will. It needs to recog­nise an in­te­grated ap­proach that sees VAW as both an in­hibitor of growth and a symp­tom of the prob­lem. We must em­brace in­no­va­tive ap­proaches and part­ner­ships to scale up women’s eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment and help break the cy­cle of vi­o­lence. Ma­tokgo Maku­toane is ad­vo­cacy man­ager at Soul City In­sti­tute of So­cial Jus­tice. Fol­low her on twit­ter @ndu­maku­toane.

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