by Shannon Manuel


Not only does gender-based violence have devastating private and social effects, but it also has a sizeable economic impact


It is well documented that South Africa has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence (GBV) in the world. Labelled as the ‘Rape Capital of the World’, South Africans are no strangers to the almost daily horrific tales of gender violence within the country. It remains a critical challenge that is yet to trigger dedicated action to achieve a solid solution. The human impact of gender-based violence is seen every day, however, what about considering the other side of the coin–namely its economic effect?

Certainly, one might ask whether attributing a monetary value to this impact is morally right? Does it not lessen the ethical and social imperative to eliminate violence? Does it not minimise the pain and experience of victims? These thoughts are justified. Putting a number on human suffering is an undoubtedly controversial topic, however, having a calculation of the national economic cost will serve as an important tool in policy and advocacy efforts to end the suffering and injustice of this violence on a national level. While viewing gender-based violence from an economic lens might be the colder choice, doing so puts gender-based violence in a language that people can understand–if we try to put a number on it, it at least draws attention to it. At the high-level discussion on the “Economic Cost of Violence against Women”, held in September of last year, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, Lakshmi Puri stated that violence against women and girls brings huge economic costs to any society.

“The negative impact on women’s participation in education, employment and civic life undermines poverty reduction. It results in lost employment and productivity, and it drains resources from social services, the justice system, healthcare agencies and employers. As such, violence against women is a clear barrier to sustainable development. This has been acknowledged in the recently adopted Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. For the first time, violence against women and girls is included as a target area under Goal 5 on gender equality, reaffirming that such violence is a barrier to gender equality, women’s empowerment and overall sustainable development, as well as to the achievement of the other Goals. UN Women is working with partners to demonstrate the wide-reaching implications, including economic, of such violence on society.”

She went on to highlight that the analysis of the cost of violence shows that much of the response to violence against women and girls to date has focused primarily on intervening with affected women after the violence has occurred.

“Such strategies are essential to mitigate the devastating effects for survivors, but they cannot prevent violence from occurring in the first place”, she stated. “There is therefore, also a need to implement programmes that prevent such violence from occurring in the first place. In doing so, we can prevent significant human rights violations and hold the promise of reducing the social and economic costs of violence.

If society would effectively eliminate violence against women, the equivalent costs could be dedicated to development purposes. Those resources could greatly contribute to close the resource gap and enhance our efforts to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, and the sustainable development goals at large.”

Global studies on the economic impact of GBV have become increasingly sophisticated over the last 20 years. Some research papers are comprehensive attempts to measure national costs, while others are partial exercises measuring only a particular sub category of cost. To date, there have been more costing studies done in developed countries than developing, due to better quality data.

Cross-country comparisons are challenging, as country specific considerations, including the scope and definition of violence differ, meaning data is not always 100% comparable. Units of measurement may vary, the year of study varies and total costs vary according to inflation and exchange rate fluctuations. The populations measured, the reporting rates and the types and definitions of violence included in scope also vary.

Despite these understandable limitations, these international studies provide an important reference point for South African policymakers on the scale and magnitude of GBV across other jurisdictions, and put pressure on questions of the scale and cost locally in South Africa.

In Chile, a study found that women’s loss of salary as a result of domestic violence cost US$1.56 billion or more than 2% of the country’s GDP. In the United States, the cost of violence against women by an intimate partner exceeds US$5.8 billion per year. In Canada, annual costs have been estimated at 684 Canadian dollars for the criminal justice system, 187 million for police, and 294 million for the c=cost of counseling and training, totalling more than 1 billion a year.

For most countries, it’s clear that decisive action to prevent gender-based violence will reduce state expenditures and increase productivity. Yet, despite the gravity of the situation and the impact of development, gender-based violence remains invisible in strategies to boost economic growth.

Measuring the costs of violence demonstrates how violence not only drains resources from many sectors, not just the perpetrators and victims, but also presents significant costs to the business and private sector, all levels of government and civil society. This is particularly important to South Africa where it is crucial not to remove scarce resources from the promotion of healthy and viable communities. Essentially, the cost of violence demonstrates the waste of resources that can be more effectively used.

According to a 2014 report released by KPMG, GBV costs the South African economy a staggering R28.4-billion to R42.2-billion a year. The report says the cost could be as much as 0.9% to 1.3% of South Africa’s annual gross domestic product. The research was conducted by the human and social services division of KPMG, one of the global ‘big four’ accounting firms. Based on a prevalence rate of 20%, an assumption that one in five women experience an incident of gender-based violence each year, it puts the country at least R28.4 billion a year. This, the report notes, is enough to either provide wage subsidies for 100% of unemployed youth, build half a million RDP houses, provide national healthcare to a quarter of the South African population or fund over 200 000 primary school teacher salaries for one year.

The National Development Plan and Vision 2030 set forth our country’s plan for economic transformation, poverty eradication and full employment. Not only is GBV resulting in wasted resources that could be used towards the NDP and productive economy growth, the significant investments made by the government and the private sector to grow SA’s economy will be eroded as long as the prevalence of GBV prevails. Simply stated, GBV erodes both the inputs and outputs of growth.

While viewing the economic effects of GBV, we cannot forget that it is more than a financial situation. Gender-based violence is perceived as one of the most severe forms of gender inequality and it remains one of the most persistent human rights violations of modern time. It is an issue that affects women disproportionally as it is directly connected with the unequal distribution of power between women and men; thus, it has a profound effect on families, communities and societies as a whole. It must be remembered that gender-based violence knows no geographical boundaries, no ethnic

differences, class distinction or age limits and that such costs are borne by individuals and by society as a whole.

Enough is enough

In a country with such high levels of violence against women, a responsive justice system is important in ensuring that rape victims and survivors obtain justice. Justice has to be a reality for many rape survivors but it sadly remains only an aspiration. Rape victims and GBV survivors continue to face barriers when seeking redress for the crimes committed against them. In many parts of the country women are subjected to secondary victimisation in police stations and in accessing various medical and/or legal services. In March, international finance magazine, The Economist, ran a feature uncovering what it calls ‘South Africa’s disgrace’—starkly revealing the troubling rape statistics in some regions in South Africa.

The publication cited an anonymous survey conducted in 2016 in Diepsloot, a densely populated township north of Johannesburg, where 38% of men (two in five) admitted to having forced a woman into having sex with them. Extending the questions to broader violence, the statistic jumped to 54%.

An even more problematic finding that the study revealed was that a large number of rape cases go unreported and when they do get reported, little is done. Unfortunately, this is a widely acknowledged problem in SA. According to the study, of over 500 sexual assault cases reported to the Diepsloot police since 2013, only one case had led to a conviction, and according to The Economist, it is estimated that only one in every nine cases of rape is reported to the police.

Coverage of rape statistics in SA has been notoriously inaccurate for many years due to low reporting of rape cases, poor record keeping and reporting of rape statistics. Beyond the official number of cases reported to the SAPS, the full extent of rape and sexual assault in SA in unknown.

The most recent data from the South African Police Services shows that between April 2016 and December 2016, there were 30.069 reported cases of rape—down from 32.161 cases during the same period in 2015.

This data shows that South Africa’s rape statistics, at 53.8 cases per 100 000 people in the country, are double the country’s murder rate over this 275 day period. This equates to one person getting raped every 13 minutes.

Applying this to The Economist’s estimate that one in every nine cases goes unreported, the figure gets even more frightening, to someone being raped every two minutes.

In 2014, a memorandum sent to Woman Minister Susan Shabangu signed by Sonke Gender Justice and a coalition of civil organisations, urging Minister Shabangu to implement a fully-funded National Strategic Plan for gender-based violence, made headlines.

More than 35 organisations and thousands of South Africans participated in rallies around South Africa, calling for a national strategic plan on GBV during 16 Days of Activism against violence against women and children.

Sonke Gender Justice is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation, established in 2006. Today, Sonke has established a growing presence on the African continent and plays an active role internationally. Earlier this year, Sonke demanded that the South African government take its call for a National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence (NSPGBV) seriously.

The organisation cited that an NSPGBV will provide for better service delivery for victims of violence, but will also look at the critical primary prevention aspect of GBV and the need to roll out prevention programmes that address harmful gender norms and masculinity, and equitable relationships - amongst men and women alike. Nonhlanhla Skosana, Community Education and Mobilisation Manager, Sonke Gender Justice says:“South African society as a whole needs to talk openly about gender-based violence. Men need to stand up and hold each other accountable. We also urgently need to see politicians taking a stand against gender-based violence.”“An NSPGBV would provide a coordinated response amongst the government, civil society and the private sector and hold each stakeholder accountable. Sonke is also calling for the NSPGBV to be costed and for the necessary funding to be made available.”

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