The social and economic costs of gender-based violence in Bangladesh

Author: Andrew Rowell, CARE Australia

The UN Commission on the Status of Women met again in New York on 4–15 March 2013, with a particular focus this year on prevention of gender-based violence.

In this context, it is timely for policy-makers to contemplate the full social and economic costs of gender-based violence on women, families, communities and nations.

While official figures can’t fully capture the unreported, undocumented acts of violence that occur each day, the UN reports that globally, one in three women will be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused at some point in her life. According to , the lifetime risk for women of gender-based violence can exceed 70 per cent in some countries. To encourage action, it is important to give policy makers a better understanding of the implications and impacts of this epidemic of violence. To this end, CARE undertook the Cost of Violence Against Women (COVAW) initiative in Bangladesh. The report looks at how measuring the tangible cost of violence provides evidence of resources being drained from families, communities and the state.

Clearly there are challenges and ethical issues in putting a dollar figure on such a complex issue. The study developed a framework for calculating costs at the individual, family, community and macro levels of marital domestic violence. This approach captured social costs, including physical and mental insecurity, decreased confidence, absenteeism and dissolution of marriage, among others. It also considered physical/mental health costs, including increases in stress-related injuries, pain, physical injury, illness and disability. Finally, it addressed time costs — for recovery, for attending court, for hiding under protection — and direct monetary costs for courts, police, hospitals and at the national level for prevention campaigns. The study, by necessity, limited itself to marital domestic violence rather than the complex task of capturing the full breadth of gender-based violence in Bangladesh. Even within this scope, the research team was unable to put a price on some of the many intangible costs associated with domestic violence, particularly where these are neither measurable nor comparable.

The study found that when all quantifiable costs were considered, the total cost of domestic violence in Bangladesh in 2010 equated to 143 billion taka (over US$ 1.8 billion). This amounted to 2.05 per cent of GDP, or the equivalent of 12.65 per cent of government spending that year. This cost to the nation was close to the total government expenditure for the health and nutrition sector in Bangladesh that year. The majority of this cost is borne by survivors and their families, so it competes with vital expenditure needs for food and education.

The COVAW initiative not only sought to document the cost of violence but also to directly support behaviour change

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