SUVA – “Violence against women is a significant economic issue which carries high costs to individuals, households, the public sector, businesses and society,” says Abby Erikson.
“However, we cannot lose sight of violence against women as a violation of human rights - women have a right to live a life free from violence, beyond any economic justification for it,” adds Ms Erikson, manager of UN Women’s ending violence against women program in the Pacific.
She was speaking at last week’s triennial conference of Pacific women held in Suva in which panellists highlighted the connection between violence against women and women’s economic empowerment.
The Pacific region has some of the highest rates of violence against women in the world, with two out of three women reported experiencing physical or sexual violence by a partner – double the global average.
Tara Chetty of the Pacific Women Support Unit presented research findings from the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea entitled ‘Do No Harm – Understanding the relationship between women’s economic empowerment and violence against women in Melanesia.’
“Some of the women’s economic empowerment initiatives added to the tensions and conflicts that already existed around men’s financial control of the household, with men using the money for purposes such as alcohol that didn’t benefit the household,” Ms Chetty said.
“The design of women’s economic empowerment must address gender norms and power relationships in the household, otherwise we add to women’s workloads while putting women more at risk of violence.”
There is a direct relationship between women’s access to income and an increase in violence and control – which hinders women’s economic empowerment and significantly impedes women’s ability to fulfil their potential – including education and employment opportunities, income earning capability and advancement in the workplace.
Shabina Khan, UN Women project coordinator for Fiji and Kiribati said an Asian Development Bank Country gender assessment for Fiji in 2015, the estimated annual cost of intimate partner violence is 7% of gross domestic product.
“This is due to higher turnover in the workplace, lower individual work performance, increased health expenses and absenteeism or human resources costs,” Ms Khan said.
Employment legislation is out-dated in many Pacific island countries and often does not include sexual harassment - or if the employment legislation exists, there are no procedures or mechanisms to address issues such as sexual harassment or employees are unaware of the protection provided for under the legislation.
According to the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement sexual harassment research project in Fiji, 20% of women had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and most had not reported the sexual harassment, either due to fear, lack of awareness of policies or absence of policies in the workplace.