Putting Violence Against Women at the Centre of the Agenda for Women’s Economic Empowerment

At last it seems the world is recognising that economies built on a foundation of patriarchy are inefficient as well as unequal and unjust. As the 60th Commission on the Status of Women opens in New York this week, a series of promising global initiatives are underway to address women’s systematic exclusion from economic advancement. This calls for celebration – but some careful warnings too.

This year’s CSW is dedicated to the theme of Women’s Empowerment for Sustainable Development. In January of this year, the UN Secretary General announced the appointment of a High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, dedicated to unlocking the economic potential of the millions of women who are absent from the labour force, or working in sub-optimal conditions. Among the panel’s focal areas, it is encouraging to see crucial issues including unpaid care, the gender pay gap, women’s ownership of assets including land, and the quality of work available to women. In December, the World Bank produced an 8-year gender strategy to guide its work on economic growth and poverty reduction. Just last month, the IMF also published a working paper on gender equality and women’s advancement. Clearly, there is high level momentum behind the need to integrate women fully in a global economic system that to date has been profoundly patriarchal.

While we celebrate this development, it’s important to note: unless violence against women is placed at the centre of this agenda, it won’t be successful. This is for two reasons: individually, women cannot engage in economic activity unless the many realities of violence against them are identified and addressed; and structurally, we cannot expect economies to grow and thrive while they are being held back by the substantial impacts of gender-based violence.

Violence against women removes women from labour markets, and undermines their work in the home. For example, women in Vietnam missed paid work for 5.5 days following an incident of violence, translating into more than 15.8 million workdays[i]. Witnessing violence traumatises children and takes girls out of education. Violence underpins and reinforces the discriminatory attitudes, which facilitate gender-based occupational segregation and a global gender pay gap of nearly 50%. Moreover women who experience violence have lower earnings – by nearly 35%[ii]. Violence costs states money: in health treatment and disability costs, police time and court time. In Australia approximately $7.8 billion is spent annually on providing health care, criminal justice and welfare programmes associated with domestic violence[iii].

The review theme of this year’s CSW is eliminating violence against women – an issue last addressed by the Commission in 2013. The Agreed Conclusions from CSW57 highlighted that the elimination of violence against women was imperative, including for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Those same Agreed Conclusions provide clear guidance on ways that VAWG can be practically eliminated. Yet in spite of an extensive suite of international resolutions, declarations, laws and other tools, the problem remains persistent. It is time that economic decision makers recognised that violence affects not just individuals but whole economies and societies.

If global initiatives are to be believed, we are soon to see governments and private businesses making a concerted effort to get women working, in quality jobs, on an equal footing with men. We are going to see initiatives to provide childcare and parental leave, for both mothers and fathers. We will see laws passed and enforced to ensure that women are paid the same as men for equal work; and we will see industrial policies that prioritise jobs for women. In one of the few initiatives that recognises the central place that violence plays in women’s working lives, we will see safe, clean public transport systems where harassment is a thing of the past. Yet, such initiatives still neglect violence within the home, whose impact ripples through community projects, markets, factories, and offices.

The new agenda of economic empowerment continues a decades-long trend of marginalising violence against women as a health and a human rights concern. Policy makers are waking up to the fact that gender inequality is holding back economic development. It is time that they recognise that gender-based violence is having the same effect, that it is dragging on economies, and that it is holding back the immense potential of individual women and the collective power of women in society and the economy.

In order to truly unlock the social and economic potential of gender equality, policy makers must finally take the issue of violence against women seriously. At the CSW, resources for eliminating violence must be dedicated. At the high level panel on women’s economic empowerment, data on the impact of VAWG on economies must be considered, and strategies devised which address the complex interaction between economic independence and violence. And in countries, businesses and communities, more effort should be made to engage with those who are affected by violence against women.

Gender inequality is unquestionably holding back sustainable development. Violence is a piece of that problem that we ignore at our peril.

Author: Carol Ballantine, Component Three, What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls.

[i] Duvvury, N., Minh, N. and Carney, P. 2012. Estimating the Costs of Domestic Violence against Women in Vietnam. Ha Noi: UN Women

[ii] Duvvury, N. Callan, A., Carney, P. and Raghavendra, S. 2013. Intimate Partner Violence: economic costs and implications for growth and development. Women’s Voice, Agency and Participation Research Series No 3. Washington: World Bank

[iii] “The cost of domestic violence: Australian economy robbed of billions” news.com.au, November 22, 2015. Available at http://www.news.com.au/national/the-cost-of-domestic-violence-australian-economy-robbed-of-billions/news-story/655a55c524aabdb4640e3bfdeac2865e


What Works backs ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030’ – a world where men and women have equal rights

How DFID’s What Works To Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls programme is advancing gender equality through economic empowerment, addressing social norms, and reducing violence at its core, from violence during times of conflict, to the everyday…

For many it might seem odd that we continue to need an International Women’s Day; after all, its 2016 and surely we’ve moved on. But we haven’t, and International Women’s Day isn’t just a token, it is a reminder that women are still not treated equally to men, right across the world. Across the globe women are subjected to shocking abuse, violence and sexual assault every minute of every hour of every day, and it is both a cause and consequence of gender inequality.

Unless we do more to understand the issue, and to understand what can be done to support women and girls, violence will continue to stop women and girls achieving their potential. Today violence against women affects one in every three in their lifetime – this is a human rights, security, and global health violation of endemic proportions.

In addition, violence against women and girls doesn’t only impact the individual. Little is known about the economic and social impacts of violence against women and girls and how these affect households, businesses, and communities. We need to recognize and understand the complex connections between violence and women’s empowerment – violence affects women’s work leading to lower productivity, lower earnings, and instability in employment potentially increasing risk of poverty. Equally those women who manage to find work in rigid patriarchal societies can often find themselves the victims of violence. Given these complex interactions there needs to be greater integration of attention to violence in economic and social policies that aim to reduce poverty, expand capabilities and enhance well-being.

And these violations are exacerbated further during humanitarian emergencies. Over the last few years we have seen commitments from the UK and US governments, from the UK Government’s Call to Action on Protecting Girls and Women in Emergencies, to the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, and the US Government’s Safe from the Start Initiative, which each highlight the will of humanitarian actors to improve policy and programming around prevention and response activities, but high-quality, rigorous research on violence against women and girls needed to understand the very specific forms it takes in conflict and humanitarian settings, how to address violence in diverse contexts, and the broader impact of violence on society and economy, is scarce.

Finally, the work on understanding what works to prevent violence against women and girls across 17 projects in 14 countries around the world will provide evidence to inform policy and programming. These projects, some of which are exploring new innovations, and other established interventions to prevent violence, will be rigorously evaluated to determine their efficacy in preventing violence and provide the evidence for scale-up. This includes 12 randomised control trials, and several of these include qualitative research. The interventions span economic empowerment, peace-building, social norms change, and includes interventions working with children, sex workers, men and people living in informal settlements.

DFID’s What Works programme, three inter-linked research programmes focusing on preventing and responding to violence against women and girls, is contributing towards bridging these gaps in evidence, conducting 28 research studies in total to produce rigorous research and evidence on the prevalence, forms, trends, and drivers of violence against women and girls; on effective prevention of and response to violence against women and girls, including in conflict and humanitarian settings; and on the economic and social costs of the same. Through this we hope to build a solid evidence base, which will lead to better approaches to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls in development and humanitarian settings.

In simple terms we will be broadening our understanding of what violence against women and girls is, why it happens, and what works and what doesn’t work to prevent and respond to it. But most importantly our underlying principle is to shine a light on the experiences of women and girls that we speak to and use their voices to tell the humanitarian community how we can best support them, their families, and communities.

The different research streams within What Works will fill the gaps in our current understanding of how to successfully address violence, and in doing so contribute to opportunities for women and girls to fulfill their destinies in a meaningful, balanced and healthy way.

We are all committed to generating evidence, but also to translating our findings into well-documented and well-disseminated information for use across the world – including for all those incredible women and girls who have taken part in our research. We hope, together with our partners across the whole of the What Works programme, to effect concrete change in the lives of women and girls who have survived, or who are at risk of violence.

So we welcome International Women’s Day 2016, and the three inter-linked components which together comprise DFID’s What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls programme, back ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030’, and hopefully even a little before…

www.whatworks.co.za for more information