In an initiative to further women’s rights in the Arab world, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia and partner institutions called on Arab nations to calculate the economic cost of violence against women. “We’re looking at the economic costs [of violence] because it has been shown when money is involved, everyone takes more interest,” Wassim Shahin, professor of economics at the Lebanese American University – one of the partner organizations in the new project – said in a speech at Wednesday evening’s launch at the Sursock Museum in Beirut’s Ashrafieh.
He reiterated that achieving women’s rights in the Arab World remained an ongoing battle, as very few Arab states have laws specifically tackling violence against women.
By calculating the negative effect of violence against women on Arab economies as a whole, Shahin said, a greater number of actors will involve themselves to tackle the issue.
The first phase of the project, called “Estimating the Cost of Violence Against Women,” focused on domestic violence and was presented by representatives of the various partner institutions: ESCWA, LAU, U.N. Women and the Swedish Institute of Alexandria.
“The first phase of the project is analytical,” ESCWA’s Center for Women deputy director Mehrinaz el-Awady, told The Daily Star. “We’ve done two studies to look at the situation of violence against women and the relationship between marital violence and certain elements of the economy,” she said. The result was an economic model that estimates the cost of violence against women.
The economic model estimates the amount of money lost at the individual household, societal and governmental levels. In creating such a model, partner institutions have researched the medical, criminal justice, legal and social costs incurred as a result of this violence within marriages.
While the financial impacts on the nuclear family are noted, the U.N. report equally emphasizes violence’s ripple effect to workplaces and broader communities. Economies are directly impacted by decreased productivity of women affected by spousal abuse, the report found.
Mohamed Ali Alhakim, executive secretary of ESCWA, announced that the model was already undergoing initial tests in Palestine. While it is still in its preliminary phases, he said, “the economic cost on women and families, households and societies could reach millions of dollars yearly.”
Egypt used a model recommended by the U.N. to estimate that in 2015 gender-based violence cost it 2.17 billion Egyptian pounds ($123 million) a year.
Despite the achievements of the project’s initial phase, the report noted that data on violence against women and girls in the region – particularly marital violence – remains “fragmented and unreliable.”
This is in part because the success of the models is dependent upon the participation of individual women. To fill this gap, the U.N. report also lays out an action plan to raise awareness on the issue and create partnerships to collect primary data.
“Change is happening, but we’re still at the beginning,” Mohammad Naciri, U.N. Women’s regional director for Arab States said.
Officials, including Lebanese State Minister for Women’s Affairs Jean Ogasapian and various members of civil society, attended the launch.
According to Awady, each partner organization is working on different aspects of the ongoing project under the leadership of ESCWA.
“This report shows that violence against women is not a private issue that should be handled only within the family. It also shows that it has nothing to do with culture or religion. Violence against women is a social issue, it’s a societal responsibility,” Peter Weiderud, director of the Swedish Institute Alexandria said.