Why violence keeps women poor | Jeni Klugman and Matthew Morton

04 Nov 2013

Malala Yousafzai Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenager shot in the head by the Taliban last October for advocating education for girls.

Conservative estimates of lost productivity resulting from domestic violence range from 1.2 percent of GDP in Brazil and Tanzania, to 2 percent of GDP in Chile — roughly what most governments spend on primary education, or about 1.5 percent. But those figures don’t include costs associated with long-term emotional impact and second-generation consequences.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. That’s about 938 million women — more than the number of undernourished people in the world and close to the population of Africa.
Women in poverty, especially in poor countries, often confront multiple layers of difficulty in avoiding or escaping gender-based violence. They may have less financial independence and fewer exit routes, and they often live amid longstanding social norms that at best turn a blind eye to the brutalities they face — and at worst sanction them.

They may face greater social stigma if they seek help, and institutions may be too weak to provide help when they need it. Asked why they wouldn’t report abuse, women in developing countries most commonly reply that they believe it would do no good.

Gender-based violence reinforces inequality. It tells women they are worth less than men and undermines their ability to make choices and act on them independently. It demands concerted action as a violation of women’s basic human rights, but also as an economic issue.

In some communities, development is disrupted by gender-based violence in schools. A 2008 survey in Mozambique, for instance, found that 70 percent of girls reported knowing that some teachers demand sex for better grades, and 50 percent reported sexual abuse by boys in their peer group.

Women exposed to partner violence have shown higher work absenteeism, lower productivity and lower earnings than peers who aren’t beaten. Even male perpetrators of partner violence in Vietnam had higher work absenteeism after a violent episode. Fear of encountering violence—such as on public transportation—further deters many women from seeking employment.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating education for girls, has said: “We girls can change the world.” Empowering women and girls like Malala — now a global icon in the fight for gender equality — has indeed proven catalytic in lifting societies out of poverty and boosting shared prosperity. Ending violence against them and addressing the cultural norms that perpetuate it are vital to this equation.

Talk to us: How can we better protect women from gender-based violence?

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