While there are many things in the world that a price tag cannot be attached to, violence against women is not one of them.
Worldwide, it is estimated that the global cost of domestic violence against women could amount to $1.5 trillion a year. In the UK, the reported costs vary anywhere from $7 to $39 billion a year.
It is worth noting that the rates of domestic violence in the UK are far lower than in the Middle East, 25 percent in the UK compared to 37 percent in the Middle East. If the $7 billion figure from the UK were extrapolated at a linear rate, it would mean that the cost of domestic violence in the Middle East is $11 billion.
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Of course, there are a lot of intricacies in the data provided and extrapolation isn’t as simple. In the Middle East, there is a strong absence of data and research on the cost of domestic violence against women, largely due to the fact that the issue is seen to be a ‘private’ one with many taboos associated with it.
In reality, the issue of violence against women is very much an elephant in the room in the Middle East, and elephants cannot be swept under the rug. Domestic violence comes with an expensive bill; there is no need for our economies to continue to pay for it. Instead, it is time to simply eliminate the issue.
Eliminating the situation can begin with some very basic steps: making domestic violence a punishable offence, following up on the prosecution of abusers and repeated abusers, and the creation of women’s shelters, hotlines, and safe-havens where women feel comfortable to share their experiences.
Domestic violence comes with an expensive bill; there is no need for our economies to continue to pay for itYara al-Wazir
Lack of judicial support
Iraq, Morocco and Qatar, and Egypt are just some of the Arab countries that do not have laws or regulation in place that criminalizes domestic violence. Of the 22 countries in the Arab League, only 7 countries, including Saudi Arabia, have laws that protect women against violence in their own homes.
It is almost embarrassing that parliament has to debate such laws in the 21st century before they are turned into legislation. If victims of domestic violence cannot lean on their own families who are perpetuating the violence, they must at least be able to lean on their governments. Until legislation is brought into place, women will continue to be silenced into accepting that this is simply part of life.
Sadly, the absence of legal paragraphs that support women also lead to a culture of victim blaming. In Jordan, 90 per cent of women believe that there is circumstances where beating a wife can be justified, according to a UNDP report in 2014.
Who is picking up the bill?
The issue of domestic violence should be at the forefront of economic reform as the cost is substantial. While the direct costs are limited to include health care, the more substantial cost is due to lost time, which leads to lower rates of female participation in education, employment, and general civilian life.
There is not a single argument that can justify domestic violence, especially repeated attacks. In an ideal world, one would not have to use the economic impact of domestic violence to justify legislation against it. It’s sickening that this issue has become so large that a price tag can even be placed on it.
The global cost of domestic violence is higher than that of smoking, which sits at $1 trillion, yet there was little to no hesitation about introducing a tobacco tax in the GCC countries.
As the region is going through economic reform, taxes being introduced, and in wake of the true economic cost of violence against women, surely the funding of female shelters, the organization of programs that allow victims the opportunity to be financially independent and self-sufficient, and the introduction of laws that criminalize domestic violence would be more cost effective then letting the situation carry on as normal.
While the steps noted above won’t put a complete end to the issue, they are a step in the right direction. The time has come for women in the Middle East to have laws and facilities that protect their basic right to exist.
Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir.