The Pacific Islands Cannot Afford the Human and Economic Cost of Violence Against Women

November 25, 2012

Aleta Moriarty

November 25, 2012 - Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Globally, 510 million women will be abused by a partner during their lifetime. This is more than the combined population of the United States, United Kingdom and Japan. 

Around the world, at least one in every ten women who have had a partner have been physically or sexually assaulted by their partner or someone they know during their lifetime. In Pacific countries, the rates are up to six times higher. This is staggering.

Reducing gender-based violence is not only a moral imperative but also an economic necessity. Domestic violence has imposed a large economic cost on Pacific Island countries. Last year, Professor Biman Prasad, Dean from the University of the South Pacific, calculated that the cost of domestic violence to the Fijian economy was around 6.6 percent of GDP. One could imagine the economic costs to be similarly high in Pacific Island countries like Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, which have comparable rates of gender based violence. This human and economic cost is unaffordable.

Domestic violence exacts a heavy toll on its victims and society - children, education, health, families, businesses all suffer. Children who have witnessed abuse are more likely to abuse in turn. Their education suffers. The violence also travels outside the home. A study from six countries in 2011 found that perpetrators of physical violence against their spouses are two to five times more likely to participate in violence outside the home.  

Some see domestic violence as a private matter. A matter to be resolved in the home. I believe this view needs to change. 

Domestic violence is a major development and policy challenge. It hampers progress. Concerted efforts, by governments, firms, non-government organizations and societies as a whole to reduce gender based violence will bring major benefits for all in the Pacific region. They can help reduce the suffering of millions of women; they can help reduce health care costs and increase women’s human capital and productivity. 

Recently the Pacific Women’s Network Against Violence Against Women met in Fiji, to discuss actions to address gender violence in region. Amongst other priorities, they called on Pacific governments to make and maintain budgetary commitments over the long term to implement legislation on violence against women and girls. This kind of investment, alongside sustained efforts to promote gender equality and protect Pacific women, will build a stronger and more resilient region. 

Simply put, this is the right thing to do, and it is also the smart thing to do.