The huge negative impact of violence against women and girls on the global economy gives international financial institutions a unique role to play in ending it, a new guide on the issue said.

The cost of violence against women amounts to at least 5 percent of the global gross domestic product (GDP), according to a recent study by the Copenhagen Consensus Center.

“Development organisations, financial institutions and increasingly the private sector are recognising these costs…,” said Caren Grown, senior director for gender at the World Bank Group.

“We have the global reach, we have the tools in terms of financing, partnerships to make greater change that could be transformational,” she said at a conference earlier this week.

The resource guide, produced jointly by the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Global Women’s Institute at George Washington University, provides guidance to development professionals on including efforts to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls in all of their projects.

This type of violence directly affects the prosperity of all and impedes efforts to curb extreme poverty, Grown said, indicating another reason for international financial institutions to become involved.

One aspect of the economic impact of violence against women is the greater cost it imposes on healthcare systems.

Research shows that, for example, in the United States healthcare costs among women experiencing physical abuse are estimated to be 42 percent higher than among non-abused women.

More investment and research need to go into existing approaches to curb the violence against women “epidemic”, said Mary Ellsberg, founding director of the Global Women’s Institute at George Washington University.

So it is important to bring gender-based violence programmes and prevention efforts to institutions that don’t deal with it on a regular basis, experts said.

Lack of evidence

Evidence-based knowledge on what works and what doesn’t in tackling violence against women and girls remains insufficient and skewed, experts said.

A World Bank study, which analysed and reviewed evidence on the effects of interventions to prevent violence against women and girls, found that over 70 percent of the so-called “impact evaluations” were conducted in just seven high-income countries accounting for only six percent of the world population.

Given the high economic costs of violence against women, the scarce and patchy evidence poses a significant challenge to developing economies in particular.

Integrating projects that address violence against women into larger development programmes is essential not only to collect more evidence but to make programmes more effective, experts said.

“Single-focused interventions are not going to be successful,” said Heidi Lehman, director of women’s protection and empowerment for the International Rescue Committee(IRC).

Lehman stressed the importance of assessing risks, whether due to conflict or cultural norms, when addressing violence against women and girls in varied geographic, cultural and political contexts.

“We are challenging the global system of patriarchy, and with it come risks,” she said.

Published in collaboration with The Thomson Reuters Foundation 

Author: Maria Caspani is a journalist at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, covering humanitarian crisis and women’s rights.

Image: A woman, who asked to remain anonymous, recounts her experience at a shelter for domestic violence victims in Caracas March 16, 2011. REUTERS/Jorge Silva.