When women become victims of violence - economic, physical or emotional - their ability to create economic opportunities is severely curtailed. Expectations of how to behave, notions of masculinity and dealing with the after-effects of a violent interaction all limit her ability to make the most of economic opportunities.
In 2012, Gender Links found that 77% of women in Limpopo, 51% in Gauteng, 45% in the Western Cape and 36% in KwaZulu-Natal had experienced some form of gender-based violence.
Women’s economic empowerment is a prerequisite for sustainable development. Yet young South African women are marginalised from economic opportunities. More than half the youth are unemployed and youth unemployment makes up almost double the unemployment rate of 27.7%, according to Statistics South Africa.
Statistician-general Pali Lehohla recently said young people between the ages of 15 to 24 remained vulnerable in the labour market with an unemployment rate of close to 56%. This translates to about 3.3million young people between 15 to 24 years of age without employment and other economic opportunities.
Their plight is deepened by a low economic growth which means more positions are being frozen, limiting skills for entrepreneurship. Women experience challenges in virtually every aspect of the economy.
Add to the mix the challenge of gender-based violence and women are pushed further away from opportunities for growth. Not tackling violence against women comes at a huge cost - not only for the survivors of such outrages but also for their families, communities and the economy.
World Bank president Jim Yong Kim noted that gender-based violence could cost as much as 3.7% of gross domestic product (GDP).
KPMG’s report, “Too costly to ignore - the economic impact of gender-based violence in South Africa”, conservatively estimated that it costs South Africa between R28.4billion and R42.4bn - or between 0.9% and 1.3% of the GDP annually.
This huge financial cost excludes the personal cost borne by the survivors of violence. The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation’s (CSVR) 2016 research “Gender-Based Violence in South Africa: A Brief Review” noted that the lack of economic independence among women was a key driver of gender-based violence as they struggled to leave abusive relationship due to their economic dependence.
“The social and economic conditions, including the impact of the global financial crisis, make it difficult for many men to achieve ‘complete’ masculinity, such as securing jobs, marrying, fathering children or establishing their own households,” noted CSVR, adding that in that context gender-based violence became a prominent mechanism through which to reinforce male power and authority.
There's also the additional costs of coping with such violence - such as shifting scare resources to interventions rather than, for example, supporting women's empowerment programmes.
Even if we think violence against women does not impact on us, taxpayers share a collective burden of paying for the costs of dealing with it. The costs are direct and indirect as well an opportunity cost where we might be deprived of choices we don’t even realise are available.
For example, UN Population Fund acting executive director Natalia Kanem says Africa can expect a demographic dividend when we create opportunities for everyone to take part in the economy. She describes the demographic dividend as the economic boost that happens in a country when you have more people in productive working ages employed and contributing to the economy compared to the categories of young people or elderly who are dependants in economic terms.
“You have to equip people to be able to be productive members of a society, and this means education is very important. Adolescent girls in particular should be equipped to reach their potential by providing education of certain types of skills or training.”
Kanem said young women were often left out of the picture when it came to economic empowerment. This is particularly true when we disregard the need to ensure women are included in the economy.
Violence against women drains limited resources and marginalises women from economic opportunities, increases poverty and perpetuates a cycle of economic dependence that makes women reluctant to leave their abusers.
We must help women grab economic opportunities if we truly want to break the cycle of abuse and make inroads against poverty. Empowering young women requires a holistic approach, good policies and political will. It needs to recognise an integrated approach that sees violence against woman as an inhibitor of growth and a symptom of the problem.
We must embrace innovative approaches and partnerships to scale up women’s economic empowerment and help break the cycle of violence.
* Matokgo Makutoane is advocacy manager at Soul City Institute of Social Justice. Follow her on Twitter @ndumakutoane.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.