Image: Tim Mossholder (Unsplash)

Gender Based Violence (GBV) has plagued South African homes and communities for years. The perpetuation of rape culture and female fear has infiltrated every corner of the country causing unprecedented rape statistics and femicide rates but, the damage does not stop there. GBV has far reaching effects on the country’s economy which drastically impacts the country’s ability to prosper. This article hopes to shed light on some of these seldomly discussed consequences in order to truly understand the complexity of issues GBV poses to the development of South Africa. Perhaps, if one considered the true impact of GBV on various sectors and aspects of South African development there would be an increased desire to create holistic and sustainable solutions.

GBV costs the South African government an estimated 1.3% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per year. This results in the wastage of billions of Rands which could be used to uplift and empower vulnerable South Africans into becoming earners, producers, suppliers and innovators. The drain placed on the healthcare system by GBV is commonly known and understood, but there are several other consequences of this scourge which place equal, if not even greater, pressure on the already struggling economy.

In 1998 South Africa was named the Rape capital of the world. Whilst this grim statistic sheds light on the utterly unimaginable trauma experienced by around 30% of South African women, it also casts a bleak future for the South African Tourism industry. Stories of malicious gang rapes, sexual harassment claims against police men and many other shocking, yet surprisingly frequent incidents play a large role in deterring foreign visitors from spending money in the once bustling tourism destination that is the “Rainbow Nation”. Ultimately, as long as the streets of South Africa are notoriously unsafe for local women to walk, potential tourists are unlikely to take the risk, no matter how beautiful the sunsets. From this perspective GBV is likely costing the country billions in potential tourism income by contributing to soaring statistics of violent crime. 

GBV costs the South African government billions of revenue in health care, social services and the justice sectors. Not only do GBV victims generally require urgent medical and psychological aid but they are also likely to require long term treatment of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) such as HIV and Aids. Furthermore, children born as a product of rape are likely to place increased pressure on social services agencies because they are unplanned, unwanted and therefore often born into families with inadequate financial positions to have children. The diversion of money and other resources to hospitals, courts and social service agencies means less money to be used in educational institutions which have the potential to uplift and empower impoverished individuals. Considering the complexity of the above mentioned factors, it is difficult to fully comprehend the inevitable economic drain caused by GBV in South Africa. 

In addition to this, GBV also costs the South African economy billions of Rands in terms of possible economic growth. As mentioned above, the use of resources to treat symptoms and outcomes of GBV could likely produce unlimited economic growth if invested in more productive sectors such as, those aimed at women empowerment and educational programmes. Although GBV affects all genders and sexes, women bare the overwhelming brunt of it. In many South African households women are either exploited or manipulated by their intimate partners economically. From a young age, many South African women are groomed by older relatives or close family friends to perform sexual acts for money whilst others are prevented from obtaining financial independence from abusive intimate partners. In this sense, it is evident that GBV prevents many South African women from reaching their full economic potential and therefore drastically impairs the economic prosperity of the country.

Considering the physical and psychological toll of GBV on South African women it is unsurprising that women often miss more days of work than men which further jeopardizes their economic security and chances of economic prosperity. Millions of women are victims of constant sexual harassment within the workplace which derails their productivity and often causes long term psychological trauma.

Barack Obama, former president of the United States of America, famously said that the prosperity of a country is dependent on the way it treats its women, if this holds true then South Africa’s future remains unbelievably bleak. If we as South Africans have become so desensitised to the current femicide taking place within our borders then understanding the true economic cost of this violent scourge may be the only tool left to motivate change within our society.

Christina van Straten is a third-year student at the University of Pretoria. She is studying a Bachelor of Social Science in Industrial Sociology and Labour Relations, majoring in; Sociology, International Relations and History. Christina hopes to pursue a career in social development within the United Nations. She is particularly passionate about issues relating to gender inequality in Africa. 

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