Blog written by Nata Duvvury and Srinivas Raghavendra*, National University of Ireland, Galway.
Donald Trump claims he will revive the US economy, and states that he has a unique commitment to the economic potential of women. He may think that sexual violence and abuse has nothing to do with economic growth, but the evidence shows that this is clearly untrue. Trump’s refusal to tackle Violence Against Women (VAW) – indeed, his complicity in its normalization – will undermine any efforts to improve economic growth.
In his first Presidential speech on February 28th, Donald Trump announced the creation of a new agency to address the needs of victims of crime by immigrants, called Victims of Immigrant Crime Engagement (VOICE). It is undoubtedly important to address the needs of victims of crimes, whether committed by immigrants or not. The President’s commitment to addressing the consequences of all types of violence is however belied by the fact that his budget proposals include eliminating 25 programs run by the Office of Violence Against Women in the Justice Department http://thehill.com/policy/finance/314991-trump-team-prepares-dramatic-cuts) which hitherto had been considered as the basic building block of the US government’s response to violence experienced by women. Is the administration setting forth a narrative of hierarchy of victims? Only women assaulted by immigrants are worthy of concern? Is it that the daily violence within the home, with nearly 35% of women experiencing violence by an intimate partner (as reported by the Center for Disease Control), is to be swept under the rug as a matter of private rather than public concern? www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/NISVS_Report2010-a.pdf
At the same time, Trump has waxed eloquently about women’s contribution to the economy stating in his weekly address on Feb 18th “But to truly succeed as a country, we must realize the full potential of women in our economy..… I campaigned on helping women in the workforce, and we are going to deliver on that promise, believe me.”
(http://www.breitbart.com/video/2017/02/18/trump-we-must-realize-the-full-potential-of-women-in-our-economy/). It is indeed heartening that a leader whose unfiltered comments about sexually assaulting women caused considerable angst among women, so emphatically realizes the critical role women play in the economy of a nation. Is it possible that one can leverage the economic potential of women and at the same time deny them protection from violence in the home and public spaces?
The economic possibilities for women are inextricably tied with the consequences of violence, and in particular violence within the home. While domestic violence causes untold suffering and humiliation to women, it also inflicts invisible impacts on the wider economy and society. In the context of the current administration’s foregrounding of violence perpetrated by immigrants (for instance the repeated rhetorical emphasis on the potential for terrorist attacks and other violent crime by immigrants), the proposed cuts to violence against women programs, and the normalization of violence against women more generally, there is a cause for concern that the fight to end violence against women will lose ground. It is therefore all the more important to highlight not only the invisible cost borne by women but also the cost inflicted to the wider economy by domestic violence.
A critical pathway by which violence inflicts costs for the economy is through its insidious impact on physical and mental health of women. Women experiencing domestic violence are more likely to have a chronic health condition. They also suffer poorer mental health – depression, anxiety, and so on. In other words, there is an underlying trauma that affects women, a trauma that is held in the body. It is through the channel of trauma that women have poorer economic outcomes – women experiencing domestic violence have greater employment instability (higher job turnover, less likely to rise on the promotion ladder, and so on). What’s more, women experiencing domestic violence have up to 35% lower earnings than women who do not have an experience of violence. In some countries this difference in earnings alone is equivalent to 2 to 3 % of the GDP, representing a sizeable loss of productivity for the country.
There are costs to families in terms of the impacts on children. Domestic violence undermines the capabilities and potential of children – cognitive difficulties, lower educational performance, and increased juvenile delinquency. Another important cost that is unrecognised is the impact of trauma on the unpaid care work that women do and the consequent impact on the welfare of children. Over time this affects the capabilities, education and skills of the future workforce, and constrains the human capital potential of the economy.
Additionally there are costs for the extended family as well as friends and workplace colleagues. Recent studies on impacts of domestic violence in the workplace show that that there is an effect on co-workers who provide support to women experiencing domestic violence, especially on their own productivity. A study on businesses in Peru suggested that colleagues who provided support to women survivors of violence lost productivity to the tune of US$595 million or about 8% of the total loss of $6.7 billion to businesses due to domestic violence. In simple words the economic impacts of violence represent an overall loss of human potential that undermines the growth trajectory of an economy.
New research evidence documents that intimate partner violence has ripple effects well beyond the four walls of the home. As part of our ongoing research, we argue that the impacts of violence ripple through all sectors of the economy leading to a permanent leakage that is hard to mitigate unless violence itself is reduced. The fundamental contradictions inherent in the utterings of Donald Trump need to be challenged – violence is not simply an isolated feature of ‘bad hombres’, but is a cancer of society at large. This International Women’s Day (March 8th), the theme is Be Bold for Change. Yes, Be bold to assert the “alternative fact”, that investing in the provision of services for those affected by VAW, prosecution of all who perpetrate VAW and measures aimed at the prevention of VAW, can in fact make all countries ‘Great Again’. And yes, “it’s the economy, stupid”, but not without its women!
*The authors are leading a project on economic and social impacts on violence against women and girls as part of a global programme on What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls, funded by U.K. Department for International Development.