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Volume 6 | Issue 03 | March 2012


Original Forum

Readers' Forum
Our War Crimes Trials:
Making it Happen
-- Ziauddin Choudhury
Putting an End to Fatwa Violence
-- Arafat Hosen Khan
Girl on Girl:
How we perpetuate abuse and violence
-- Shahana Siddiqui
The Price of Violence
-- Interview with Dr. Julia Ahmed
Equal but Different:
Gender discrimination in immigration rules

-- Farah Huq
The Crime Never
Considered a Crime
--- AZMM Moksedul Milon

Photo Feature
Woman Rising

Women in the Workplace:
Gender-specific challenges
in the corporate world

--- Olinda Hassan

Women's sports in Bangladesh --
An Encouraging Year

-- Naimul Karim

Her vindication, he supports
-- Shayera Moula

An Aconcaguan Birth
--Wasfia Nazreen
On Objectification of Women in
Mainstream Hollywood Movies

--Rifat Munim
Silence of the Voices
--Zoia Tariq


Forum Home

Lisa Gutierrez/getty Images

The Price of Violence

DR. JULIA AHMED, Team Leader of the Cost of Violence Against Women project of CARE-Bangladesh, speaks to Forum's Kajalie Shehreen Islam about the multiple costs of violence against women to the individual, community and country.

Forum: What is the 'cost of violence against women' project? How and when did it start?

Dr. Julia Ahmed (JA): Cost of violence against women (COVAW) is an innovative initiative of CARE-Bangladesh funded by USAID to bring new ideas and fresh perspectives in dealing with domestic violence. If we look back to past programmes of CARE-Bangladesh we can see the organisation has implemented a number of development projects in support of reducing violence against women (VAW). These are: Partnership for healthy life; Violence Prevention Rights and Reinforcement Cell, PROTIRODH, ARSHI, SHOUHARDO. All these are complementary to CARE-Bangladesh Women Empowerment Impact vision.

With regard to COVAW, its goal is to prevent violence against women by contributing to behaviour change related to gender norms and practices in marriage. Highlighting this, we have started by asking how best to address and understand the context in which violence against women is accepted as normal. With this in mind, this project has carried out several studies to understand the inter-connectedness between political context, power structures and gender relations as well as the community dynamics within which domestic violence against women takes place. On this basis it has developed and tested tools for determining economic and social costs of violence to influence social mindset, national plans, policies and implementation of the Domestic Violence (DV) Act 2010.

COVAW began its journey in 2009 in Dinajpur, Shunamgonj and Tangail targeting a population of approximately 39,000 in 24 villages. As an implementation approach it has used the existing community-based platforms of three CARE-Bangladesh programmes where CARE Bangladesh and its local partners have built a long term relationship with the community. By this I am trying to say that COVAW did not start from scratch, whatever it has achieved it has an incremental effect. Its local partners are: Society for Uddog, Jaintia Chinnomul Shongstha, and South Asia Partnership for Bangladesh.

Forum: Why does the cost of violence need to be measured? What costs are included?

JA: We know violence against women has been recognised internationally as a major violation of a woman's human rights. Many efforts both nationally and internationally are being initiated to address this serious human rights issue. However, if you look into the prevalence statistics of VAW it is highly disturbing. All the research findings indicate that VAW will not be reduced or prevented until and unless our mindset that accepts VAW to resolve conflicts is not changed. Meaning, we really need to convey powerful messages to hit this mindset.

Now, with regard to awareness-raising messages, when you say VAW is a major violation of human rights (HR) it is hard for the common people to grasp it, because HR is an obscure terminology that you cannot see, and, when you cannot see something, it is hard to relate it with behaviour change. So, when we try to relate VAW with out-of-pocket expenditure, it becomes easier to relate the importance, as people in the community see value in it. And, this actually makes the difference as, by measuring cost implications of violence against women, you actually put a monetary figure in it. And, in this way you can demonstrate visibly how violence drains resources from individual groups, families and communities. For example, in CARE-Bangladesh cost study we have analysed 483 cases, where we captured cost information both from victim/families and also about perpetrators. This actually helps to bring to light the real human stories for seeing the cost incurring line items. When a perpetrator sees that he has paid during the absconding period, had to pay fine from shalish verdict, could not earn day-to-day living while he was in jail, it came as a surprise for them who never thought about the cost aspects behind violence against women.

On the other hand, the cost picture at local level also helps to shed light on its implications at the policy level. Like in order to make rational decisions about how public resources should be allocated, policy makers need to have scientific information about the end results. By having the economic cost information and seeing the multiplier effect of violence, it becomes easier for policy makers to understand where the funding priorities should be given to affect outcomes.

In our study we have calculated two types of costs. These are: direct tangible cost where money is spent out-of-pocket, and time cost, meaning those items that have monetary value in the economy, but are measured as a loss of potential rather then actual expenditures. For example, measuring lost time at work and multiplying them by an appropriate wage rate. And, for those women who do not work outside home an approximation was made to put the wage rate.

Lisa Gutierrez/getty Images

Forum: How can the economic cost of gender violence be distinguished from the social cost?

JA: The fact is, every recognisable effect of violence against women has economic cost whether it is direct or indirect. Direct costs come from the use of goods and services for which a monetary exchange is made. Indirect costs come from effects of violence that have an imputed monetary value even though they do not involve an actual monetary exchange, such as lost income or reduced productivity. Well, we also understand that there are some intangible costs resulting from the violent act but apparently they have no monetary value. Examples can be pain and suffering from psychological torture, or the negative psychological effects on children who witness violence but which cannot be estimated numerically. All these costs that I have mentioned before impact individuals and their families.

Now, with regard to social cost, simply put there are two forms that cost can take: the first reflects aggregate economic changes while the second expresses social consequences. When we say aggregate economic changes it indicates that some costs of violence impact not only individuals or business but also the larger economy. For example, by hospital/clinic bed occupancy the aggregate demand is skewed towards goods and services related to the violence thereby diverting resources from their optimal use. In the meantime, aggregate supply is also reduced through lower productivity, reduced output, reduced saving and investment.

Thus, you can see VAW has significant negative influence in lower economic growth and a reduced standard of living. A huge amount of money is spent annually in treating violence against women which could be used to develop a non-violent economy. For example, our study came with an indicative estimate that 14,084.56 crore Taka which is almost equivalent to 2.05% GDP is wasted annually because of domestic violence.

Forum: What types of violence does the project deal with? Does it include psychological abuse along with physical violence?

JA: COVAW is addressing domestic violence against women in rural situation. In this project we have not dealt with street violence for example, eve teasing or workplace-related violence against women. When we say domestic violence, it covers both physical and psychological violence.

Forum: What are the findings of the project so far? How pervasive is gender violence in our country and what are the most common forms of violence?
JA: In order to provide a better answer to your question let me start by saying that one of the important aspects of CARE-Bangladesh cost study is that it has utilised the study findings quite extensively for intervention design. Its work is directed towards absolute rural community.

First, let me clarify that this project has not worked to find out the pervasiveness or what the most common forms of violence are. It started with an immediate objective to understand and analyse traditional gender norms, behaviour and practices that contribute to domestic violence against women in marriage. In relation to this, one of the major result deliverables of this project is to develop and test tools to determine economic cost of violence and use that information for designing communication and campaign events to influence national plan, policies and implementation of DV Act 2010.

With the study findings it has developed a Behavior Change Communication (BCC) tool with five tailor-made topics for the community-based platform groups for both women and men. The first topic is to understand the underlying causes of violence. When we discuss and analyse this topic through PLA exercises, the immediate conclusion is that dowry and child marriage are not the root causes of violence, the root cause is actually the patriarchal mindset that accepts VAW to resolve conflicts. Next, when we discuss about socialisation of masculinity, gender differentials, and use of power through a 'time series analysis' exercise in two groups about how men and women pass the 24 hours in a day, it powerfully demonstrates the sharp contrast of time distribution between women and men. How a woman wakes up very early and goes to bed last without having any personal time. This exercise helps men to understand and empathise with the workload and time pressure faced by women and how women's involvement in outside income-generating activity actually puts pressure to perform reproductive, productive, and social functions.

Later, when the group exercise deals with analysing the cost aspects of VAW cases it helps to realise that although an incident of violence takes place in one household, it actually involves the time of others to settle it. This realisation actually helps to understand that domestic violence is not a private and personal matter. It affects everyone and has far-reaching consequences harming families and communities. With this, I would like to say that this cost information actually helps to go for solid argument as to why we should say 'No' to violence.

Now, let me also share that as a part of BCC tool exercise we have identified positive men -- who use their power to resist violence and help their spouse with household work like cleaning, cooking, washing, etc. We know that it is not easy and not 'manly' for men to do these kinds of work in our social and cultural context and these men are regarded as feminine men or locally termed as 'Varua.' What we did is we have awarded these men as role models in front of a wider audience during the celebration of 16 Days of Activism Campaign. This approach has been received as a huge silence breaker in the community that has long-term potential for achieving equitable gender relations between men and women.

Forum: What are the major challenges to the project in particular and to fighting gender violence in Bangladesh in general?

JA: This project has worked for understanding the direct economic costs of domestic violence, which are measurable but what about the social costs, which have an important social bearing to understand the multiplier effect of violence against women? Let me share this, when we communicated our study findings with the key stakeholders at multiple levels we confronted a common question every time: Why did our study not capture social cost? How does the community perceive the 'social cost'?

We agree that it is important to find this out because the issues they will highlight may come out as triggering factors to change our social mindset with regard to violence against women. We need to lay a good framework in-between these two dimensions of direct economic cost and social cost in visible terms so that the argument and advocacy messages that are required to hit the social mindset will be much stronger. However, we all know that conceptually and intellectually we understand it, but to do it practically is hard.

Other challenges are gender inequality and violence that are continuing by attitudes held at family and community level despite legislative changes that have sought to improve the situation for women. At COVAW, we have tried to take the relationship between men and women to a new level through the use of the BCC tool. Our field experience says that this helps to grow confidence in men on the equity-based distribution of power between men and women. Our platform members are showing ways to create a very different and new kind of relationship between men and women, where 'feminine' men are in the process of being regarded as 'real,' smart men. What is remarkable here is that the sense of wanting to achieve the impossible is awakened in men as they have started to realise that in this new relationship it is not taking power from men and giving it to women. It is all about building an equitable relationship between men and women with trust, respect and compassion. However, it is still hard for them to get there, as most of the steps to walk into the new paradigm are unknown. I think these are the challenging parts that we need to overcome.

The other challenging part is how to go for a scaling up at wider scale with the evidence we have generated in this project.

Forum: How has this project contributed to the existing body of knowledge surrounding gender violence in Bangladesh?

JA: Broadly speaking, I think the work done by CARE-Bangladesh has contributed to better understanding of the implementation modalities of the DV Act 2010. For the first time we have a law -- DV Act 2010, which is talking about 'prevention and protection.' In Bangladesh, most of our work is survivor-focused, meaning the majority of our work starts after an incident of violence occurs. We really do not have good evidence of how prevention works. At COVAW the BCC tool that we have applied helped to navigate a process of 'prevention' mode of action to address gender-based violence.

What we have seen in our approach is that the mechanism of having fortnightly education sessions on analysis of 'violence tree' and other Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) exercises help to sow the seeds of imagination to think differently both in men and women. It further helps imprint an image in the minds of the platform members of a desired behaviour to learn about it, act upon it and advocate for it against domestic violence. This is really powerful.

With all these we could actually delve into questions such as how best to devise a robust community-based anticipatory approach for prevention and stopping of the triggering factors of violence.

In Bangladesh, very often we hear that, 'We have laws, but implementation of law is poor.' Our BCC tools and cost analysis toolkit are handy tools in support of implementing the DV Act 2010. We are part of CiDV network, a body actively working with the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs where these tools are shared to be part of the 'rules of procedures' under DV Act 2010.

Forum: What role can the media play in addressing the issue of violence against women and in reducing it?

JA: We know media is one of the main forms of communication used to reach a large number of people at any time. We can involve media to play a focused role in educating and sensitising mass people on this new topic of economic cost of violence.

Forum: Where do you go from here?

JA: I think COVAW has provided a solid ground to build advanced studies and delve into further action on Behaviour Change Communication model towards reaching our common destination i.e. having a violence-free society.

I think two tasks need to be urgently done. The first is to ensure the widest possible dissemination of the findings and distribution of the tools that this project has developed and tested.

Secondly, we are at an important moment of reflection. There is an emerging understanding that violence against women is detrimental and we should not condone it. There are quite a good number of people who really want to see a change in our social mindsets but do not know how to achieve that impossible task. This calls for a combined work from government, NGO, academia, research institutions, private sector and media to give the 'Prevention' aspect of gender-based violence programming a focused push. We need to move beyond survivor-focused or victim-focused approach. We need to go for extensive use of all the available tools and proven approaches to hit the socialisation process that tolerate or even benefit from domestic violence. For that to happen, we need to learn the right skill, right dialogue with reasoning, and a programmatic leadership to make prevention of violence a point of reference in all our concerned activities. In this approach, how we are attuned to the incoming message through familiarity, emotional rapport and professional training is important.

Kajalie Shehreen Islam is In-Charge, Forum.

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