By NASI HAKO and LILLIAN ROBERTS
Gender-based Violence (GBV) costs the South African economy between R28.4 billion and R42.2bn a year. This startling figure is from a 2014 Tambo Foundation research report which underpinned an online seminar hosted by the organisation. The seminar was one in a series organised by the Foundation as part of Tambo Month focusing on socio-economic and political issues that affect the country.
On 14 October 2020, The Tambo Foundation hosted a webinar about a facet of gender-based violence which is often overlooked: the economic cost of GBV. Panellists in the webinar titled The Cost of GBV were Lisa Vetten, Busiswa Sithole, Baba-Tamana Gqubule, Nomkhitha Gysman and facilitator, Refilwe Moloto. The panelists have various career backgrounds with their areas of focus ranging from sustainable economic reformation to gender equality.
“No one pays attention to the true cost,” said facilitator and strategic and economic advisor, Refilwe Moloto.
“[We] see the human cost of gender-based violence every day, but having a calculation of the national economic cost will serve as an important tool in our policy and advocacy efforts to end the suffering and injustice of this violence on a national level,” said Sonke Gender Justice in the introduction to a KPMG report on the economic cost of GBV.
GBV has surged in South African news headlines alongside ever-climbing femicide, rape and domestic-abuse statistics. The trending hashtags: #MeToo, #endgbv, #MenAReTrash and #AmINext, among others, are raising awareness for the issue whilst trying to instigate change.
“I’m tired of wondering: who’s next?” said Zengeziwe Msima, referring to what has lately been deemed ‘South Africa’s other pandemic’.
Currently, South Africa has one of the highest rape rates globally. The female homicide rate in 2009 was five times the global rate, and the national intimate partner violence homicide rate more than twice that in the United States, as the KPMG report explains.
The report refers to over 30 studies attempting to quantify the costs of violence against women that have mainly focused on the costs of services, economic losses due to lost output, decreased productivity, and lower earnings as a result of violence. The KPMG report says there is a demonstrable link between women experiencing violence and lower earnings.
“Earnings decline by as much as 35% with experience of any violence in the lifetime,” the report states.
Statistics from a 2014 Tambo Foundation research report estimated that the financial costs of GBV translate to between 0.9% and 1.3% of South Africa’s annual GDP.
The KPMG report says that as a result of gender discrimination and their lower socio-economic status, women have fewer options and less resources at their disposal to avoid or escape abusive situations and to seek justice.
“They also suffer (…) consequences [on their sexual and reproductive health], including forced and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and resulting deaths, traumatic fistula, and higher risks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV.”
Panelists agreed that though it is almost impossible to pin down the total indirect and direct cost of GBV to the economy, it is likely more than what has been estimated.
The costs of these injustices not only contribute to the loss of productivity by assault victims, but will – in the long term – indirectly mean that hospitals, law enforcement, government institutions, and civil society organisations need to find the resources to deal with these cases. Sonke Gender Justice in the KPMG report says that ultimately the economic burden is primarily shifted on to the individual and families.
Moloto reported that the National Income Dynamic Study and Coronavirus rapid mobile survey established that out of the 3 million people who lost jobs during the lockdown, 2 million of those were women. The study found that women thus face a double disadvantage.
“I don’t think as countries we’ve ever applied our minds to that – it was important, perhaps, to bring the powers that be to their senses,” said Nomkhitha Gysman in a subsequent interview with Grocott’s Mail. Gysman is the former Head of Gender of the South African Development Community (SADC).
It was also added that GBV drains resources from many already scarcely resourced sectors which South Africa needs to stimulate to grow the economy.
Many topics were raised in the webinar in relation to the topic of gender-based violence, as well as gender as a whole. One topic that was very important to highlight was what Sithole referred to as “beautiful laws”, without successful implementation or relevant oversight.
The panel also zoned in on the gaps in police reports as a result of case mishandling and under-resourced departments. This has worked against the fight for justice, while also contributing to a loss of economic resources.
Gysman made a call to action in which she appealed to influential men to champion the anti-GBV movement. She challenged them to use their public platforms to present these important statistics and advocate for change in institutions and as a country.
“We need influential men, strong men, to stand up,” she said.
“We are not the ones committing violence amongst ourselves against ourselves,” said Moloto, highlighting that women suffer the burden of speaking up and advocating for change.
The people of Makhanda should be aware of and contribute to discussions of this nature, Gysman urged.
“The Freedom Charter says the people shall govern,” she said. “The people of Makhanda should know about these things – so that we are able to ask questions, difficult questions.”