Gender-based violence should be recognised as an economic issue too

The first week in September the World Economic Forum (WEF) took place in Cape Town alongside protests about the extremely high levels of gender-based violence, the absence of meaningful prevention mechanisms, and the failure of the criminal justice system to respond to crimes that are reported and to address recidivism.

President Cyril Ramaphosa skipped a lunch time WEF session to address protestors and recorded another message to the country to talk about measures to address this.

A short explanation for the discontent is that the recent spate of rapes and femicides laid bare that rapists, murderers, and sexual offenders remain free men in our society, while women and LGBTIQ+ persons live with the constant threat of violence and the frequent experience of it.

This is because few of the sexual offences that are reported to police ever go to trial, and even fewer result in a conviction.

For domestic violence, more than half a million new protection orders were sought during the 2017/18 and 2018/19 financial years but criminal cases of domestic violence increased in the past financial year.

Even those who report crimes do not regularly access justice.

We also know that many of these crimes are never even reported, for various reasons.

Part of the power of structural violence is its ability to silence its victims.

These are painful truths, deeply rooted in a systemic failure to address violent behaviour before it happens, or to respond to it when it does.

They are also a result of structural patriarchy which does not believe women, children, and gender non-conforming persons when they report crimes, meaning that many of them are victimised further when seeking protection.

In addition to the emotional pain of living in a violent society, there is a significant economic cost to the country.

It is disappointing that this was not a central part of South Africa’s submission at the WEF, because our economic progress will be stifled and limited if more than half of the population lives in fear, is recovering from violence, or away from work in a criminal justice process.

Globally it is a truth well acknowledged that GBV is both directly and indirectly economically costly.

Just three examples below:

• In 2014, the European Institute of Gender Equality estimated that GBV cost the region an estimated 256 billion Euros annually – 50% of these costs were attributed to the physical and emotional impact of the violence, 12% related to lost work outputs, and just 3% related to spending on specialised services.

• In 2016, the Kenyan National Gender and Equality Commission estimated that GBV costs the state around 46.5 billion Kenyan Shillings annually – with the most serious expenses felt in terms of loss of productivity where 56% of respondents had stopped working as a result of a GBV incident. Those with serious injuries didn’t work for an average of 12 months after their injury.

• In 2016, UN Women reported that in India women lost at least five paid work days for each intimate partner violence (IPV) incident – this means that women earned 25% less salary each time they were abused by an intimate partner. In Uganda, 9% of violent incidents resulted in a loss of time – an estimated 11 days per year per person who experienced violence. UN Women further reported the costs of IPV for the USA as $5.8 billion and for Canada as $1.16 billion.

These costs are calculated by looking at a number of things – medical bills, transport costs, the cost of criminal justice and victim empowerment services, lost productivity, mental health bills, medication, child care whilst in criminal justice proceedings, time off work, and the list goes on.

In South Africa, with its extremely high levels of femicide, this cost frequently includes loss of life.

When we know that 43% of South African children live only with their mother, this economic impact has a ripple effect that can go on for generations.

We know that for the recorded past, South Africa’s level of reported GBV has been incredibly high.

Perhaps the most widely stated study on what this costs South Africa is the KPMG 2014 Study, which estimated that the cost to South Africa of GBV was at a minimum, R28.4 billion annually and could cost up to R42.4 billion.

That was five years ago, and levels of crime have not gone down, whilst inflation and costs of services have gone up.

It’s safe to say, we are spending a significant amount of money (at 2014 0.9% – 1.3% of GDP) on a problem that we need to be focussing on preventing. Yet, in 2017, the Institute for Security Studies reported that the government spent just R9 billion on programmes that can prevent violence.

It also bears mentioning that if the criminal justice system were to work in favour of victims of gender-based violence, there would be many more offenders in our correctional services centres, because reports would be more likely to result in prosecutions.

This would result in further expense – both in terms of the need to build new centres (existing facilities are already overcrowded) and to accommodate more inmates.

At present we spend R381.40 per offender in a correctional services facility.

If we were to secure a conviction in just 50% of the 50 108 sexual offences cases reported in 2017/18, that would be another 25 054 offenders in correctional services, at R9.6 million rand per year.

We cannot afford to ignore this problem, especially when we speak about our economic trajectory.

If our state fails to address this crisis, they will pay both the emotional and the economic cost in the future.

Jennifer Smout is the Commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality


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