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How ADB can help stop violence against

(This article appeared originally in the Asian Development Bank’s internal online magazine, ADB

Nov 23, 2015
On 25 November, the world marks International Day for the Elimination of Violence
against Women. Imrana Jalal, Senior Social Development Specialist (Gender) at
Asian Development Bank’s Sustainable Development and Climate Change
department who has represented battered women in law courts and used to be the
Chair of the UN Committee on Harmful Practices Against Women, shares her insights
on the Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s possible contributions in addressing
violence against women.
How big a problem is violence against women (VAW) in Asia?
VAW is a culturally and socially sanctioned crime against a third of the world’s
women. People shake their heads when they are told this statistic. They just don’t
believe it, but it is true. Our social norms condone the practice, frown on reporting
and prosecuting it, and expect women to grin and bear it in the interests of family
cohesion. Actually, family cohesion works better when men get help with dealing
with their problem. You don’t beat a woman you consider your equal, so VAW is a
consequence of gender inequality.
The prevalence rates of VAW are simply sobering. World Health Organization
(WHO) research from 2013 states that the global prevalence of physical and/or sexual
intimate partner violence among all ever-partnered women is more than 30%. The
prevalence was highest in the WHO regions of Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean and
Southeast Asia (includes South Asia), at 37%. South Asian countries have a higher
rate than Africa. Overall, 1 in 2 ever-partnered men who were interviewed in six
countries across Asia and the Pacific as part of a recent UN study on men and
violence reported ever having used physical and/or sexual violence against a female
partner, and nearly a quarter of the men interviewed reported perpetrating rape against
a woman or girl in their lifetime, with the majority of them not having experienced
any legal consequences.
In 2014, the BBC reported that every 5 minutes an Indian woman reports domestic
violence. There has been a 134% increase in reporting in the last decade, leading to
the passing of new legislation in 2005.
The highest rates are in the Pacific Islands. A UNFPA study of lifetime physical or
sexual violence committed on a woman by a partner demonstrated a prevalence range
from 40% in Tonga, to 68% in Kiribati. In Samoa the rate was 46%; in Vanuatu,
60%; in Solomon Islands, 64%; and Fiji, 67%.
In our developing member countries, the highest prevalence rates are in Kiribati,
while the lowest is in Georgia. In Tajikistan, one in 5 women report gender-based

violence (GBV), but in some provinces it is 58%. Here is a matrix (see below) culled
from UN Women, WHO and others prevalence data covering ADB regional member
countries. This data might be very surprising to some ADB staff, but it is important to
be aware of this largely hidden crime against women, to consider VAW as a direct
project hindrance, and to respond with relevant gender designs.
The increase in the reported numbers is more likely due to increased sympathy, better
reception by the police, and the large numbers of women’s organizations that have
mobilized around VAW.
What has really pushed many countries into passing laws and training health, justice,
and law enforcement officials to deal with VAW more effectively is not the injustice
done to women or the violation of their basic human rights, but the economic costs.
The gathering of prevalence data has enabled costing studies which show that the
economic costs of VAW are simply staggering.
What are the economic costs of violence against women?
Data is most readily available in western nations. In Canada, the annual monetary cost
of violence against women has been estimated at C$684 million in the criminal justice
system alone. In New Zealand, auditing firm (then) Coopers & Lybrand estimated the
costs at NZ$5.3 billion ($3.4 billion) per annum. In the developing world the data is
not so easy to come by. Nevertheless, in Fiji in 2002, using the New Zealand formula,
the central bank estimated that violence against women cost the country FJD$500
million ($230.4 million) annually—equivalent to 7% of GDP—of which FJD $300
million was in direct costs. By 2011, the cost was still pegged at around 6.6% of the
GDP. In the Philippines, in 1998 a study estimated, the cost of treating survivors of
violence against women was reckoned at P6 billion. This was only for medical,
psychological and crisis intervention, and was equivalent to the budget of one
government line agency. The economic cost is, of course far, far from the only reason
to deal with violence against women. But address it we must.
How have other IFIs dealt with VAW?
Most international finance institutions have stayed well away from VAW, fearing that
dealing with it is a political minefield and that they have no particular expertise. They
have largely left it to the UN and civil society groups.
Some IFIs have only just started dealing with it in their research and projects. The
World Bank, for instance, has openly acknowledged fairly recently that VAW is one
of the major obstacles to women's economic empowerment. It is likely that the WB’s
new gender strategy will have VAW as one of its core operational areas.
Are there projects that ADB has supported so far that directly support the
elimination of VAW?
ADB has supported gender equality legislation in Mongolia and Viet Nam, and family
law legislation in Fiji but has largely shied away from dealing directly with VAW. It
has also marginally and indirectly supported VAW interventions in Bangladesh and
Papua New Guinea through the health sector. But a very small number of new

projects will try to tackle the issue more directly, I believe. For instance, the East Asia
regional department of ADB is embarking on a few interventions through the urban
development sector. A new technical assistance project lead by ADB’s Office of the
General Council and the Central and West Asia regional department will tackle legal
issues that have to do with VAW in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. Another
the Central and West Asia regional department technical assistance project deals with
sexual harassment in public transport in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
What role can ADB play in eliminating violence against women? What is our
added value?
Actually, a lot. We know for instance that VAW is a direct hindrance to women
enjoying the benefits of our development projects. We know that it is a fundamental
obstacle to women’s economic empowerment. And we need to ensure that our
projects “do no further harm” by having adverse effects in terms of increased VAW.
While sector projects generally provide benefits to both women and men, they may
also add risks for women and girls in being exposed to violence. These risks need to
be addressed as part of our projects. And banks want their funds spent well, and spent
Despite the data, the economic costs, and the clear need, we have largely left the issue
alone. This is wrong. We cannot afford to ignore VAW and leave it to the UN and
NGOs. In any case, it is too big a burden for them to shoulder alone. We should
integrate gender designs into our projects and investments to combat VAW, wherever
we can.
We could provide more support to the reform of antiquated family law legislation all
over our region, such as the support ADB gave Fiji, as well as the training of family
court judges through our policy-based lending. We could ensure that education
projects have VAW curriculum content so that boys are reared learning that VAW is
wrong. Our urban development and transport projects could address VAW through
gender-sensitive safety audits which could result in paying close attention to women’s
safety through better lighting, safe walkways and public toilets, more security
personnel, and sexual harassment campaigns. We could collaborate more with civil
society groups on a range of measures to combat VAW.
VAW is a serious impediment to development, and frankly speaking, we have the
leverage and the funds to do more about it.
On 25 November, ADB joins the world as it marks International Day for the
Elimination of Violence against Women by encouraging staff to wear orange—
which symbolizes a brighter future without violence.
This day also marks the start of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based
Violence. During this period, everyone is encouraged to post photographs of
themselves in orange, as well as short videos or stories, artwork, or memes
addressing the theme on the Gender Equality Facebook page. Management will
award prizes to the best posts. Read more on how to #OrangetheWorld

Intimate partner violence - refers to both physical and sexual violence (unless specifically identified as
* = For women in the 18-49 age group
1. UN Women. 2013. Violence against Women Prevalence Data: Surveys by Country.
2. UN Women. 2015. The Pacific Regional Facility Ending Violence Against Women Facility Fund.
3. Secretariat of the Pacific Community. 2010. Kiribati Family Health and Support Sudy: A study on
violence against women and children. New Caledonia.
4. Fiji Women's Crisis Centre. 2013. Somebody's Life, Everybody's Business! National Research on
Women's Health and Life Experiences in Fiji--A survey exploring the prevalence, incidence and
attitudes to intimate partner violence in Fiji. Suva: AusAid.
5. SPC. 2009. Solomon Islands Family Health and Safety Study: A study on violence against women
and children. Honiara.

6. Vanuatu Women's Centre. 2011. Vanuatu National Survey on Women's Lives and Family
Relationships. Port Vila.
7. SPC. 2006. The Samoa Family Health and Safety Study. New Caledonia.
8. Ma`a Fafine mo e Famili. 2012. National Study on Domestic Violence against Women in Tonga.
Nuku'alofa: AusAid.
9. Shuib, Rashidah, et. al. 2013. Domestic violence and women's well-being in Malaysia: Issues and
Challenges conducting a national study using the WHO multi-country questionnaire on women's health
and domestic violence against women. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. 91: 475 – 488.