A report out this week from the World Bank Group examined some of the challenges facing women around the world and uncovered some unequivocally devastating finds. As shown in the map below, a significant share of women, especially in Africa and South Asia, have experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner during their lifetime.
But, as the report explains, high rates of intimate partner violence (abbreviated IPV in the report) — defined as “all acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occur within the family or domestic unit or between former or current spouses” — not only have an impact on individuals and families, but also affect countries’ economies.
Estimates of the costs of violence against women are so high that a lower percentage of some countries’ Gross Domestic Product is spent on primary education than on domestic violence costs. According to the report, the costs of intimate partner violence are driven up by factors like lost income and productivity, health care and police services.
The graph below shows the cost of intimate partner violence in a few countries, although the report notes that estimates across countries are not directly comparable, due to the varying measures used to account for these costs.
But, if there’s any silver lining in the report, it’s that education can be a powerful tool. While the report shows that not nearly enough women receive a proper education in many parts of the world, when they do, it generally has positively impacted their lives. The graphs below show two examples.
The report is especially timely amid the search for over 250 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls, who were abducted in April by an Islamist militant group.
“The tragedy which is unfolding in Nigeria I think underlines the urgency of the agenda,” World Bank Group Gender and Development Director Jeni Klugman told NPR of the report. “The issues we’re dealing with in this report are about the denial of choice — girls who are unable to go to school, girls who are unable to make choices about whether and how many children to have. … I think bringing together the evidence from around the world about the gravity of these challenges and also what can be done I think makes it very timely as well as new.”
According to a 2003 CDC analysis, an estimated 5.3 million IPV victimizations occur among U.S. women ages 18 and older each year. This violence results in nearly 2.0 million injuries, more than 550,000 of which require medical attention. In addition, IPV victims also lose a total of nearly 8.0 million days of paid work—the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs—and nearly 5.6 million days of household productivity as a result of the violence.
Based on these figures, the annual costs associated with domestic violence exceed $8.3 billion in the US alone — and the CDC states that this is likely an underestimation of the actual cost. Furthermore, the consequences of domestic violence can last a lifetime, so the economic impact can continue for years, even after the abuse ends.
IPV results in physical injury, psychological trauma, and sometimes death. Both men and women are victims of IPV, but the literature indicates that women are much more likely than men to suffer physical, and psychological, injuries from IPV. Abused women experience more physical health problems — including chronic pain, gastrointestinal disorders, and reproductive health complications — and have a higher occurrence of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide attempts than do women who are not abused. They also use health care services more often.
Worldwide, over one-third of all women have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. In some countries, the prevalence is much higher — for example, a staggering 71 percent of women in Ethiopia reported physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
Risk factors for violence against women include attitudes that are accepting of violence and gender inequality, beliefs in family honor and sexual purity, ideologies of male dominance and sexual entitlement, and weak legal sanctions for acts of violence against women. The unequal position of women relative to men and the normative use of violence to resolve conflict are strongly associated with both intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence. Additionally, situations of conflict, post-conflict, and displacement may exacerbate existing violence and present new forms of violence against women.
The most promising prevention strategies include changing cultural gender norms and improving economic and social opportunities for women. But to achieve lasting change, it’s also important to enact legislation and develop policies that address discrimination against women, promote gender equality, support women, and help to move towards more peaceful cultural norms. An appropriate response from the health sector can play an important role in the prevention of violence. Sensitization and education of health and other service providers is therefore another important strategy. To address fully the consequences of violence and the needs of victims/survivors requires a multi-sectoral response.
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