What is the real cost of gender-based violence on the SA economy?

This week, Oxfam South Africa released a new inequality report, which found that South Africa ranks among the most unequal countries in the world.

Picture: 123rf.com

JOHANNESBURG - Experts are concerned about the impact gender-based violence has on the country's battered economy at a time when more funding is crucial.

Wednesday marked the start of government's 16 Days Of Activism for no Violence Against Women and Children.

The latest available data on the impact of gender-based violence on the economy included in a KMPG report quotes a Tambo Foundation study conducted in 2014. The results estimated that it costs the country between R28.4 billion and R42.2 billion a year. President Cyril Ramaphosa also used these numbers in his newsletter this week addressing the issue.

But this information is based only on available data at the time, and the effect is believed to have increased drastically in the last six years.

Not only does gender-based violence have an emotional and physical impact on its victims, but it also has a ripple effect on government spending on services such as health, policing, social development and the welfare of children.

In his weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa raised concerns about how much it cost the state to try to respond to the needs of those who were suffering the emotional and physical trauma.

Gender violence researcher at the University of Johannesburg Lisa Vetten told Eyewitness News on Wednesday that it was difficult to put an accurate price tag on gender-based violence.

“There were no thoughts given on impact when women can’t go to work. The most concerning thing is government is relying on the labour of women in [non-governmental organisations who are not getting paid. Is what government is spending enough? Not at all,” she said.

Many have raised concerns about how women find it difficult to leave an abusive relationship in an extremely unequal society, feeling forced to stay for financial reasons.

This week, Oxfam South Africa released a new inequality report, which found that South Africa ranks among the most unequal countries in the world.

It found that an average white male CEO earns as much as 149 average black women put together.

The report has blamed existing government policies for failing to reduce inequality.

"This skewed industrial structure, established during apartheid, has led to a decline of manufacturing, jobless growth, asset price inflation and investment volatility in the era of financialisation, while crowding out the informal sector’s ability to absorb unemployment,” it stated.

Oxfam South Africa also said industrial policy should support sectors in which women dominate.

"[The Industrial Policy Action Plan] and the National Informal Business Upliftment Strategy (Nibus) should include sectors that employ more women. These jobs are important as they contribute to the functioning of the economy and society at large but are generally low paid. Therefore, the promotion of these industries must also go hand in hand with improved worker conditions and wages in the formal sector.

“Addressing the crisis of inequality in South Africa therefore needs to go much further than labour market reforms, skills development policies and microsupport for the informal sector that have been advocated by mainstream economists.”

Ramaphosa also addressed this issue on Monday, recognising that women at the forefront of the fight against gender-based violence also suffered financially.

"Women form the majority of those engaged in care work, and it is in the main unpaid. Acknowledging its important contribution not just to the economy but to society, is key to advancing gender equality," said Ramaphosa. "During the lockdown to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, we witnessed first-hand the integral role played by the NGO and community-based sector in providing support to vulnerable women and children. They worked with government to ensure that the basic needs of women and children in shelters were met, and worked with the Solidarity Fund to ensure there was adequate personal protective equipment in shelters where they were needed."

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