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Gender based violence is an economic development issue

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By Avni Amin

Posted  Saturday, July 19  2014 at  14:47
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Sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) is a public health and economic issue routinely ignored by governments.

DICTA ASIIMWE met and talked to a WHO reproductive health researcher who was in Kampala for an East Africa conference on GBV.

WHO and other development organisations seem to have increased their focus on sexual and gender-based violence. What has happened to warrant this?

The WHO has been working to address violence against women for almost 20 years now. When we started out, we had very little information on the magnitude of the problem, so we collected data.

We worked with different partners and now all this data shows that violence against women is rising practically in every country in the world.

In June last year, we put out a study, the “Global Burden of Disease Estimates and the Global Prevalence of Violence Against Women.” This study showed that in over 80 countries, 35 per cent of women have experienced sexual violence.

We also showed in that study that gender-based violence had huge health consequences, everything from HIV/Aids to depression, suicide, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and low birth weight babies.

So people started making a link with the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and other health problems. I think that the sustainable development agenda has helped to garner attention of the global and development community but now increasingly the health community as well.

I think also that as people grapple with HIV/Aids and other problems, they are seeing how violence against women is linked to all these health problems in their community.

Particularly in Africa because HIV/Aids is such a big problem, people are beginning to see the link between intimate partner violence, sexual violence and HIV. So what has changed is that we now have good data that shows the relationship between bad health statistics and intimate partner violence.

In Uganda, violence is seen as less of a government problem and more of a family issue to be resolved between couples. Women are not even supposed to talk about it with outsiders. Why should governments take it up?

This is not just a socio-cultural issue. It is a public health problem and an economic development problem. A study in Uganda shows that it costs the government Ush56 billion ($21 million). That translates into 0.75 per cent of the country’s GDP.

I advise governments to start allocating budgets. They need to make sure that every sector — education, health, justice, police, social sector — all these have budgets to address GBV and equality.

How and to what do we lose this money?

When women experience violence, there are multiple consequences. Women who are abused often need to seek legal, police and health care services. Safe places like shelters are also needed when these women leave home due to abuse. And governments have to provide these services.

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