Countries could save billions of dollars a year by tackling the “disgusting pandemic” of domestic violence, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said on Friday.
She made the remarks following the release of a study that found the scourge costs the tiny African Kingdom of Lesotho 5.5 percent of its annual economic output measured by the gross domestic product (GDP).
Scotland listed the many ways in which domestic violence takes an economic toll, from burdening health, police and judicial services, fostering absenteeism at work and school, to permanently damaging children who witnessed it, affecting future generations.
About one in three women in Lesotho has suffered physical or sexual violence – often by a partner, similar to the global prevalence rate, according to a Commonwealth study.
Analysts calculated this cost the country more than 1.9 billion Lesotho loti ($113m) a year – equivalent to $50 for every citizen.
Scotland said the “groundbreaking” study is part of a wider Commonwealth initiative to encourage all countries to put a price tag on violence against women and girls.
Nations that argued they did not have the money to tackle the issue should look at how much it is already costing them, she said.
Lesotho’s gender minister, Mahali Phamotse, said domestic violence was affecting development in the mountain kingdom, which lies within South Africa, and the study would shape efforts to address it.
Recommendations included training healthcare staff, teachers and the private sector, improving data collection and enacting a long-awaited domestic violence bill.
Scotland has made tackling domestic violence a key plank of her leadership of the Commonwealth, an alliance of 54 countries that are home to more than one billion women and girls.
The Lesotho study revealed not only the direct costs of domestic violence but also the broader economic effect.
It said victims’ annual income losses – which exceeded $20m – lead to reduced spending power, which has a knock-on effect on the wider economy, while missed school affects girls’ future earning potential.
Scotland hoped the greater global focus on domestic abuse, which has soared during lockdowns to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, would encourage more governments to take action.
“The consequences are not just for this generation but for the generations to come,” she said.
“All the data shows us that if we do not have peace in our homes we haven’t got a hope of having real peace in our world.”
Scotland said domestic violence cut across all sections of society and urged everyone from bosses to religious leaders not to turn a blind eye.
“If it is one in three women that this is happening to, how many women do you and I know? Do not say: ‘This is not my business’. It is absolutely everybody’s business,” she said.