Ending gender-based violence: The cost of inaction is high

LETTER FROM AUSTRALIA - HK Yu, PSM - The Philippine Star

Dear friends,

Those who have read my column or have heard me speak know that gender equality is a priority for Australia, and a priority for me.

Gender equality underpins our policies and our development investments – we can’t achieve our vision of a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific without gender equality.

And we can’t achieve equality until we tackle the scourge of gender-based violence.

Globally, more than one in every three women has been beaten, raped or abused in some other way, most often by someone she knows, including her husband or another male family member. In the Philippines, one in five Filipino women aged 15 to 49 has experienced physical violence. In Australia, one woman is killed every week by a current or former partner.

Pervasive gender-based violence causes financial insecurity and hardship, disrupts livelihoods and increases women’s and girls’ vulnerability. It creates barriers to victim-survivors fully participating in society and can prevent women and girls from being empowered to study and work.

Apart from the human cost on the lives of women and children, as an economist, I am all too aware of the negative impact gender-based violence has on national development and social stability.

For example, an International Monetary Fund study shows that an increase in the share of women subject to violence by 1 percent can reduce economic activities by up to 8 percent.

Globally, the economic cost of violence against women and girls is estimated at approximately 2 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP), or US$1.5 trillion. The United Nations estimates that by advancing gender equality across public, private and social spheres, US$12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025.

Australia’s National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children estimates that gender-based violence costs the Australian economy AU$26 billion each year, with victim-survivors bearing approximately 50 percent of that cost.

Robust responses, including investment in gender-based violence prevention, are essential for building a better future for all.

In October 2022, Australia released a National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children which sets out an ambitious vision to end all forms of gender-based violence in one generation.

We have also begun to work on a National Strategy to Achieve Gender Equality that aims to reinforce Australia’s commitment to gender equality and setting a road map to get us there. This Strategy will focus on women’s economic equality and balancing family and care responsibilities.

Here, the Philippine Commission on Women allocated P3.45 million in 2020 for programs and projects addressing violence against women.

Recognizing that gender-based violence is an issue that affects women and girls around the world, Australia is committed to supporting and partnering with other countries to end gender-based violence. Our collective efforts are needed to achieve profound and lasting change in the region.

One of the worst forms of violence against women and girls in the region is human trafficking. Australia has committed AU$80 million (P2.8 billion) over ten years to implement ASEAN-Australia Counter Trafficking (ASEAN-ACT). This partnership supports ASEAN member-states to strengthen justice responses to trafficking, while upholding the rights of victim-survivors.

In the Philippines, Australia’s active collaboration with local partners has supported many advocacy and intervention projects combatting gender-based violence.

Just in the last ten years, through our Direct Aid Program (DAP) small grants scheme, Australia has provided P35 million to 37 projects directly benefiting Filipino women and girls. These include the support for economic empowerment through skills development and livelihood activities, promotion and protection of the rights of women and girls, provision of access to sexual and reproductive health services and the preservation of indigenous women’s handicraft.

With The Asia Foundation, Australia assisted the Philippine government response to gender-based violence during the pandemic by integrating the reporting of cases to the 911 national emergency hotline. This enabled agencies to quickly respond to gender-based violence incidents and provide health, legal and livelihood assistance to victim-survivors.

During times of conflict, emergencies and crisis, women and girls are at greater risk of experiencing gender-based violence. Australia is partnering with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in the Philippines to provide gender-based violence services and ensuring access to lifesaving sexual and reproductive health (SRH) supplies during humanitarian emergencies. Through a multiyear partnership with UNFPA, Australia is providing a AU$3-million grant for the timely deployment of SRH and gender-based violence supplies and equipment during emergencies. This is supplemented by improvement to national and local governments’ gender-based violence and SRH coordination and implementation before, during and after disasters by providing technical assistance and training.

To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November, I encourage our readers to help reduce the incidence and impact of violence against women and girls by actively tackling gender bias in our own lives. We can challenge harmful norms and promote awareness. By educating ourselves and others, advocating for policy changes and supporting organizations dedicated to ending gender-based violence, we contribute to the collective project of creating a safer and more equitable world. Through small actions and broader initiatives, we can work towards dismantling the structures that perpetuate gender-based violence and building a society where everyone can live free from fear and harm.

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If you are in the Philippines, and if you, or women you know, are experiencing abuse, you can call 911, a free and 24/7 hotline for rescue or referral to services.

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HK Yu is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @AusAmbPH.

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