The World Health Organization estimates that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Despite increased awareness and coverage especially in recent years, violence against women remains endemic around the world. And the impact of that violence goes far beyond direct victims.
According to Canada’s Department of Justice, the total economic impact of violence against women in Canada is estimated at $7.4 billion. This includes health care, criminal justice, social services, lost wages and productivity. In fact, statistics released by UN Women estimates the cost of violence against women to be equal to a $1.5-trillion loss in global gross domestic product—roughly the size of Canada’s economy.
Anuradha Dugal is the Director of Violence Prevention at the Canadian Women’s Foundation. For Dugal, quantifying violence against women is an important part of recognizing that there is a larger cost to this beyond personal pain and suffering.
“One of the things we have to confront with domestic violence is that many people think it’s a private matter or a family matter and not something that everybody should know about or everyone should get involved in” says Dugal. “What’s becoming more and more apparent is we have to make this everybody’s business.”
When violence carries over into the workplace, it threatens a woman’s ability to maintain her economic independence. Dugal notes that one of the reasons why women don’t reach their potential is because the abuse they are experiencing could be holding them back.
Women in abusive relationships may be coming into work tired or unwell, anxious and depressed. In some cases women may choose part-time, seasonal, contract, or temporary jobs because of what’s happening in their household. And unfortunately, most of these jobs are low paid, with no security, few opportunities for advancement, and no health benefits. In fact, that same data from the Department of Justice shows that violence against women costs employers $77.9 million per year in lost productivity.
Even though rates of police-reported domestic violence have fallen over time, Calgary police report that domestic violence in that city has increased in the wake of Alberta’s economic downturn. A similar correlation has been found in Newfoundland & Labrador—the province’s economy has also taken a hit because of low oil prices.
Numbers put out by the Canadian Women’s Foundation confirm anecdotal evidence that poverty increases people’s vulnerabilities to sexual exploitation in the workplace and in schools. And according to a 2015 report on violence against women in India from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, violence against women in the form of domestic and sexual abuse can “greatly” increase a woman’s chances of becoming homeless, adding another layer to the problem.
The Ontario Federation of Labour has introduced initiatives to support survivors and help prevent domestic and sexual violence in the workplace. Other efforts include a new bill in Ontario called the Domestic and Sexual Violence Workplace Leave, Accommodation and Training Act. The legislation would allow for 10 days of paid leave, as well additional “reasonable” unpaid leave, and mandatory workplace training for domestic violence and sexual violence.
Dugal notes that this type of legislation is necessary but it’s just the first step. “It is up to employers to have policies in place, but there has to be a mechanism to enforce it. This is a very complex social and economic issue and if we don’t look at it in more serious terms we are never going to solve it.”