The cost of gender-based violence on business

Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is a costly global and local issue. Its effects are felt beyond domestic settings and filter through the business environment, and are of national concern. Studies that have attempted to qualify the economic impact of GBV have shown that it negatively influences gross domestic product (GDP) and national economic wellbeing.

Source: The cost of gender-based violence on business – NewsDay Zimbabwe December 7, 2016

OPINION BY Sakhile Masuku Damba

GBV is a phenomenon — that involves men and women — in which the female is usually the target. It stems from unequal power relationships between men and women. It includes, but is not limited to, physical, sexual and psychological harm.

Locally, the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), estimated that the aggregate cost of GBV in Zimbabwe in 2009, was $2 billion.

This figure included the costs incurred by the survivors for support services, medical, transport and legal fees in addition to the opportunity costs related to high absenteeism from school, the labour market and other productive economic activities.

Seven years later, this figure is expected to have escalated.

These consequences highlight the need for effective prevention strategies that advance women’s rights and economic inclusion. Without proper interventions, the effects of GBV on businesses include lost time — or output — and low productivity because women are prevented from going to work and performing at their optimal capacity as a result of emotional, mental and physical abuse.

Taking measures such as creating policy frameworks and support systems that protect women in the workplace are a crucial element in eradicating violence against women.

Commemorative campaigns like the “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence” and International Women’s Day are other avenues that businesses can also pursue to accelerate dialogue on women’s participation in civil society and the economy.

These platforms are also an opportunity to educate women as well as society as a whole on the negative repercussions of this growing phenomenon.

The promotion of equal opportunities is a key driver for transformational change.

Unilever, under the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP), has committed to enhance the livelihoods of millions, including the empowerment of five million women by 2020, as women drive the business of the company.

Empowering women is not just the right thing to do. It is a fundamental driver for social and economic progress, and sustainable business growth. Studies have revealed that women invest 90% of their income in their families compared to men who invest 35- 40%. It is, therefore, necessary to ensure that women are protected from GBV, as this will have a positive socio-economic impact on society.

The company believes that the catalyst for business growth is an inclusive culture.

Implementation of internal structures and policies that inspire fairness in the workplace are a contributing factor that make Unilever the Number One Top Employer in Africa.

The company’s code of business principles also endorses a “zero tolerance to gender-based violence” approach that goes beyond the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence campaign.

Internal engagement and an employee assistance programme help to break the silence of GBV and provide employees and immediate family members with a platform to report abuse and seek out confidential and effective counselling.

If more companies rally behind curbing the effects and occurrence of GBV in the country, this can lead to positive outcomes in society that can span several generations.

Violence against women is a profound problem and addressing it is one of the greatest responsibilities that businesses can facilitate.

Together with government and the non-governmental organisations community, both men and women can be educated on the cost of violence, and the need for gender equality and women empowerment. We need to unlock the value of economic inclusion and ensure the success and progress of women in the workplace.

l Sakhile Masuku Damba is a Human Resources business partner Unilever Zimbabwe