Crunching the numbers on gender violence

By Dereck Rooken-Smith, Assistant Director General, Office of Development Effectiveness, AusAID

This week is the second half of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, a global campaign to raise awareness of gender-based violence as a human rights issue. The Office of Development Effectiveness is also turning its attention to gender equality, which is the subject of an upcoming ODE independent evaluation.

To promote discussion and inform the design of the evaluation, ODE commissioned five think pieces on issues around the achievement of Millennium Development Goal 3 – promoting gender equality and empowering women.

Four women with their arms around each other. Each woman is wearing a t-shirt with one of these messages: Respect me, Protect me, Support me, and Hear me.

International Women’s Day 2011 Honiara, Solomon Islands (photo by Jeremy Miler)

Given that freedom from violence is so important to women’s empowerment, it is perhaps surprising that the MDG goal doesn’t incorporate an indicator that tells us whether gender violence is increasing or decreasing. In her piece, Dr Christine Bradley argues that robust data on violence against women is the fuel for advocacy and for action, yet finds we are missing the vital statistics that tell us about the scope and impact of the problem. Violence, especially between intimate partners, is notoriously under reported in police and hospital figures. Methods for measuring violence against women at national level were simply not well enough developed at the time the goals were being written. Instead, MDG 3 focuses on achieving education parity between boys and girls and increasing the number of women in waged employment and elected to formal decision making bodies.

Dr Bradley argues that without considering domestic violence, even progress against the other MDG3 indicators may not add up to women’s empowerment. The current indicators assume that women become empowered when they have higher levels of education and more income of their own. But, she points out, in real life it isn’t always so simple. Girls and women face violence at school and work as well as at home. And when a woman’s status increases, she may in fact face more violence and abuse from her partner. For individual women, progress on both these fronts can carry risk of further violence which acts as a barrier to the goal of empowerment.

In the meantime, solid evidence of the costs and consequences of violence against women in developing countries is emerging. The statistics by themselves are staggering. In Colombia in 2004, the cost of providing health care for domestic violence was estimated at US$73.7 million a year. Rape and intimate partner violence accounted for 5 per cent of healthy years of life lost to women aged 15-44 years in developing countries, more than healthy years lost due to cancer. Productivity losses due to violence against women have been estimated at 7 per cent of Fiji’s GDP.

A decade on, measurement of violence against women is improving surely but slowly. Population surveys like the WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence have provided stronger baseline data on the prevalence of violence (the proportion of women who have ever experienced given types of violence) and incidence (the proportion of women who have experienced it in the last twelve months). Amongst others, indicators have also been developed for social tolerance towards violence and for levels of state response and victim protection.

As awareness grows of the costs and prevalence of violence against women, there is increasing recognition of it as a major development issue. In the Pacific, for example, every country rates ending violence against women as a national priority and several countries have changed laws relating to family violence and sexual assault. After eleven years of advocacy by women’s organisations, Vanuatu passed the Family Protection Act in 2009, which extended the definition of rape so that rape in marriage is not precluded.

The numbers alone won’t tell us what kind of interventions and approaches are having success, especially if the right things aren’t – or can’t be – measured. We also need rigorous evaluations that ask whether work addressing gender violence takes a holistic approach to the main domains of action: prevention, access to justice, support services for survivors, and multi-sectoral coordination.

This post is based on Dr Christine Bradley’s think piece Ending Violence against Women and achieving MDG3. You can also listen to the World Bank’s Andrew Mason and AusAID’s Gillian Brown discuss violence against women and findings from the 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality in our podcast series, ODE Talks.
See what AusAID is doing to eliminate violence against women here.

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The Australian Government’s overseas aid program is improving the lives of millions of people in developing countries. Australia is working with the governments and people of developing countries to deliver aid where it is most needed and most effective. Australian aid has helped our neighbours and countries further abroad to develop. For example, Australian aid has wiped out polio from the Pacific. Australian aid has seen more than 1.5 million children immunised against measles and polio in Papua New Guinea. We helped build the first bridge across the Mekong River in East Asia, boosting economic opportunities for millions of people living in the region. And our water supply and sanitation programs are providing clean water for nearly 500,000 people in Tanzania, South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.