Gender-based violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread human rights violations. It is an expression of the unequal power relations between genders and hinders social and economic development. Recent studies from diverse parts of the world are now estimating the economic impact of violence against women.
All of these studies come to the conclusion that violence against women causes also enormous monetary loss to society, not only related to social or health issues, but also generates tremendous opportunity costs that threatens macroeconomic development. The question is: How can we on one side measure these costs and on the other side use them to involve companies to prevent violence against women and girls?
- Violence against women in the workplace can have a significant cost to businesses in Latin America.
- A lack of empirical studies in the past made the costs difficult to quantify.
- Businesses that have prevention and support programmes see an improved bottom line, lower staff turnover and lower absenteeism.
- Business reputation is improved through certification and a government-awarded seal of corporate social responsibility.
Gender-based violence against women and girls is sometimes described as a global pandemic. According to the Copenhagen Consensus Center, partner violence against women is by far more costly to society than war or terror.
New studies have revealed that such violence hinders not only social development, but also economic productivity. This impact on businesses represents an opportunity to improve the situation – if companies can be persuaded of the value of tackling violence against women, they can be a big part of the solution.
In Latin America, ComVoMujer – a regional programme commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) – has been working to get businesses involved with other social actors, including academia, local authorities, civil society and government in Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Paraguay.
Initially, there was no demand and a great deal of resistance from the private sector. Companies showed no interest, refused to set up meetings and reported that violence against women was not an issue in their companies. Direct contact was difficult, as individuals felt accused of ignoring violence.
What was needed was empirical evidence, so academic studies were commissioned to answer two questions: What is the cost of violence against women on businesses? Can businesses help to prevent it? The results were startling.
In Peru, 68.2 % of women who have a partner are affected by violence (ENDES, 2016) and the cost to medium and large enterprises is around US$6.7 billion dollars per year. In Paraguay, the cost to society was estimated to be 153 times the entire budget of the Women’s Ministry.
Recognising that businesses care about their reputation and their bottom line, ComVoMujer changed tactics to focus on the invisible cost to businesses. Although absenteeism and poor punctuality are perceived as being the biggest drains on productivity, presenteeism is even more of a cost. Presenteeism is essentially being in the workplace, but performing at a very low level due to distraction or tiredness. This can include women who have been affected by violence.
Following research, one company, International Bakery, found that it had lost valuable, trained workers because of violence perpetrated by their partners. It also suffered absenteeism and poor punctuality. Even some workplace accidents that were initially thought to be due to negligence were found to have stemmed from violence perpetrated hours before an employee came to work.
Many companies are working to address the issue. A state accreditation scheme, for example, was introduced in Peru and Paraguay, under which businesses can be certified as being safe and free from violence and discrimination against women. A quality seal is awarded to companies that provide workshop to train staff on the cost of violence against women – both social and economic costs – inform women of their rights, and offer psychological or legal support.
Since being recognised as a safe company, Peruvian-based International Bakery saw an improvement in staff morale. It also reaped benefits financially thanks to less time lost, a decrease in staff turnover and an increase in recruitment. The seal also enhances the image of a company, which leads to more take-up of their products or services.
These examples show that companies benefit, socially, ethically and economically from corporate social responsibility.
Although Paraguay is a mostly rural country, violence against women is a predominantly urban phenomenon for various complex social reasons.
Additional strategies to combat violence against women are being pursued by ComVoMujer in schools and universities.