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The Cost of Violence Against Women

NEW YORK (MainStreet) —Nearly 60% of 1,053 women in Vietnam reported ever having experienced some form of intimate partner violence, according to a recent population survey. The widespread prevalence of at-home violence comes at an equivalently high price – totaling a productivity loss in 2010 equivalent to about 1.8% of the Southeast Asian country's total GDP, according to a U.N. commissioned report released in March.

The government of Vietnam is now responding to this report – the latest of a string of economic studies that try to place a price tag of the cost of violence against women – by launching a nationwide minimum intervention package for violence victims and survivors.

Nata Duvvury, a development expert at the National University of Ireland in Galway, who led and authored the Vietnam report, says the economic cost of these gender-based human rights violations should not be undermined.

“Violence against women has significant economic consequences,” Duvvury said. “What we have done over the last 30 years is we have just articulated clearly that it is a fundamental rights violation and a public health issue,” said Duvvury, who presented the report at a recent annual U.N. forum on gender rights.

“It is important to begin to demonstrate to lawmakers and finance ministers that if you don't address this issue there are significant consequences,” she said. “The cost of inaction can be a very powerful advocacy message.”

The Vietnam study found that out-of-pocket expenditures – health costs, like medical treatment and replacement of property were the most costly – amounted to significant earning losses for violence victims that alone equal 1.41% of the GDP in Vietnam, which stood at 2,536,000 billion VND (about $121 billion) in 2010.

Overall productivity losses – most often, women who experience violence miss paid work days and time away from household work – totaled 1.78% of Vietnam's GDP in 2010.

More than 30 studies have within the past decade or so have levied various forms of gender-based violence with lost output, decreased productivity and the violence's economic value.

The economic ramifications extend to the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States found in 2003 that intimate partner rape, physical assault and stalking costs exceed $5.8 billion each year, $4.1 billion of which is spent on health services. A United Kingdom in 2004 found that loss of service provision, economic output and human and emotional costs spawned by intimate partner violence totaled £23 billion (about $35 billion), or 1.91% of the GDP.

Comparable studies in Brazil in 2007 and in Chile in 1999 rank intimate partner violence productivity losses at 1.2% of the country's GDP and 2.0%, respectively. And in 2009 in Australia the cost totaled an estimated $13.6 billion, expected to rise to $15.6 billion by 2021 without any government intervention.

Still, some development and gender rights experts caution against relying too heavily on the accuracy of these studies. Cost studies of violence against women in the United States prior to the 2003 report previously estimated ranges as wide as $1.7 to $10 billion, according to the CDC.

“It is very difficult to do a full costing of violence against women and part of that is it is hard to get the actual cost for every single incident,” explained Mary Ellsberg, the director of the Global Women's Institute at the George Washington University.

The most devastating consequences of violence are often long-term, says Ellsberg, related to a woman's physical and mental health, as well as that of her children.

Another challenge exists in reporting from low-income countries, where women are more unlikely to report incidents of violence because of discrimination and retribution.

“They do not go to the police or maybe seek health treatment or miss work so you do not have direct cash costs in those situations,” Ellsberg said.

The risk, according to Ellsberg, is that in situations of under-reporting, the cash cost could appear low, leading to lack of government responsive action on intimate partner violence.

“I'm not sure putting a monetary value on this adds a lot to the argument to respond to what are really just horrific human rights violations,” she said.

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