Special Report

Violence Against Women

This report will not be focusing on the origination or sociological standing of violence against women. It is not a rant on feminism or equality, rather it espouses on analyzing economic indicators which shed light on the demographic trend and evolution of this issue and attempt to enumerate its cost to the economy. The purpose of these analyses is to identify the underlying factors which drive this issue and the indicative policy implications which need to be internalized to address it.


  • Brief overview of global prevalence and situation on violence against women.
  • Presentation and analysis of national data on the issue – both demographic and economic trends.
  • Policy implications and recommendations, based on national and international best practices which could suggest directed actions for the medium term.

1. Introduction

Humankind – in full possession of their senses are extremely assimilated to the concept of ‘violence’- from the very subtle to the extremely harmful and starkly apparent forms. Violence in any form and against any being is meant to strike fear regardless of the intentions of the perpetrator and any justification they may have. We as a race display the appropriate reactions – outrage and strong ethos. In most cases, people hold a very narrow definition of what constitutes violence, and a multitude of factors define their perspective regarding the matter. Most importantly, societal factors and the combined attitude of the community towards violence lead to the formation of the individual’s views regarding the issue. In today’s tech-driven world, it is acceptable to focus on incidences of violence ‘trending’ in the media, be it the latest murder, shooting, bombing. We argue, we rage, we protest till the nest incident woos our attention. However, at the end of the day, the terror is actually felt when we are the victims or when someone close to us is, and that is when the threat hits closest to home. Violence Against Women (VAW) – is an all-encompassing term used to describe all acts of aggression, half of the world’s population is vulnerable or subjected to. VAW has been a known as a blanket phenomenon for as far back as history goes, and it has remained persistent through the ages. At present, it is safe to say, violence against women, from its very primitive to the very modern form, still exists indiscriminately across the globe.
This violence manifests itself in a variety of ways and is widely discussed in almost all forums- from academics to the media. Autonomous bodies like the UN, to international and national players in the development sector, have perpetuated directed actions and policies to try and reduce its occurrence and prevalence with limited success. Bangladesh is no exception, both in terms of the existence and measures undertaken to address the violence against women. It is also the geographical focus of this article.

2. Methodology and Limitations

The basic analysis of demographic trends was conducted based on a national census and socioeconomic surveys conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). The main survey which focuses on the topic is the Violence against Women Survey conducted by BBS in 20111 , data from which has been extrapolated in light of the changing demographic face of the population. While this was a relatively simplistic exercise, the calculation of economic costs was equally complicated and difficult. A large number of research papers and studies conducted globally were reviewed to try and identify a widely accepted or used methodology which could provide the most accurate representation. Unfortunately, even the broad guidelines developed by the UN for this purpose, help define the issue and identify major categories of costs as well as suggest methods which could be implemented. However, none of the methodologies can be applied unless there is a rich national database which has much more varied socioeconomic indicators and extensive reporting systems to collect data on incidences of violence and its resulting direct and indirect costs.
“The absence of data is being felt and deplored in most countries of the region. In particular, victimization surveys and standardized data on the experience of women who personally face incidents of violence are lacking. The planning and monitoring of social and institutional change and the evaluation of its impact is not possible without such information.”2
The types and definitions of economic costs of VAW are categorized as direct and indirect costs under which there are also sub categories of tangible and intangible costs.
“While all tangible costs should be measurable, many are not due to a lack of data. All published estimates of the costs of violence against women include examples of direct tangible costs, and most include some indirect tangible costs, such as lost earnings from time away from paid work. Attempts to measure the direct intangible costs are less frequent and no studies attempt to put a dollar value on the indirect intangibles.”3

To simplify the understanding of these different costs, the types of costs can be combined into four categories: direct and tangible, indirect and tangible, direct and intangible and indirect and intangible.

Direct tangible costs are actual expenses paid, representing real money spent. Examples are taxi fare to a hospital and salaries for staff in a shelter. These costs can be estimated through measuring the goods and services consumed and multiplying by their unit cost.

Indirect tangible costs have monetary value in the economy, but are measured as a loss of potential. Examples are lower earnings and profits resulting from reduced productivity. These indirect costs are also measurable, although they involve estimating opportunity costs rather than actual expenditures. Lost personal income, for example, can be estimated by measuring lost time at work and multiplying by an appropriate wage rate.

Direct intangible costs result directly from the violent act but have no monetary value. Examples are pain and suffering, and the emotional loss of a loved one through a violent death. These costs may be approximated by quality or value of life measures, although there is some debate as to whether or not it is appropriate to include these costs when measuring the economic costs of violence against women.

Indirect intangible costs result indirectly from the violence, and have no monetary value. Examples are the negative psychological effects on children who witness violence which cannot be estimated numerically.

Source: ‘The Economic Costs of Violence Against Women: An Evaluation of the Literature’, The United Nation



• Police: vehicle use, dispatch center use, emergency response teams, interrogations, training, administrative time, criminal investigations, forensic services, in-court time, restraining orders, coroner.
• Legal: prosecuting and defending lawyers’ time in office, preparation and in court, legal aid, judge time, court time, jury costs, witness time, courts of appeal, Supreme Court hearings and decisions.
• Penal: jail time both before and after sentencing, probation, parole, therapies.
• Related: prisoner support organizations, victim compensation payouts.

• Direct costs include short run and long-term healthcare in doctor’s offices, clinics of all types and hospitals including:
• Capital invested in buildings, infrastructure, laboratory equipment, machinery, and vehicles.
• Labor for an ambulance, emergency, and services, hospital admissions, outpatient clinics, support staff, of the physicians’ offices, mental health services and clinics, physicians, nurses, paramedics, physiotherapists, other specialists, psychiatrists, psychologists, alternative healers, dentists, etc.
• Materials needed for diagnostic procedures, treatments, medication, food, etc.
• Health insurance and premium payouts.
• Indirect health costs borne by individuals include reduced longevity, the effects of poor health on lifestyle choices, reduced mobility for participating in public life. HIV/AIDS from coerced sex and health consequences of practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM).

• May apply to victim, perpetrator or children,
• Publicly funded services such as shelters, crisis lines, and services, social workers, counseling, home visits, children’s services, emergency response teams, firefighters, therapeutic support groups, retraining, networked support services.
• Government’s time in addressing laws on violence against women, administration of ministries responsible, government research and policy analysis.
• Research grants, conferences, publications, policy papers, advocacy groups, public awareness campaigns.
• Privately funded services such as hotlines and helplines. Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, community support groups, church-run support, perpetrator therapeutic support groups, volunteer hours, and volunteer agencies.

• Special education for children who witness violence.
• Job-readiness, training in the local language, re-training for victims and their children.
• School programs aimed at reducing violence against girls.
• Indirect cost of reduced educational attainment for women and their children.
• Reduced productivity, reduced output, reduced profits.
• Administrative time and costs of searching, hiring and training replacements.
• Programs for creating safe workplaces, training staff, on-site medical services, Employee Assistance Plans.
• Overtime paid to co-workers who cover for the victim.
• Relocation, separation pay, benefits, insurance premiums.
• Grievances for incidents occurred at work, supervisory time, processing complaints, litigation, court time, compensation expenses.
• Lost tax revenue from reduced output and income, lower GNP

• Lost earnings from time off work, lower productivity, less attachment to the labor force, expenses of a new job search.
• Medical fees, therapies, counselling, transportation for doctors or legal appointments, childcare for same, medications, prescriptions, treatment programs, alternative healing, self-help materials.
• Lower savings and investments.
• Lost household productivity in unpaid work, loss of economies of scale if separating.
• Legal fees for assault, custody, separation or divorce cases.
• Ongoing child custody disputes, custody arrangements or visitation problems requiring time, attention and resources to solve.
• Interest on loans, car rentals, lost deductibles on insurance claims, bad debts of ex-spouse, loss of shared pensions or transfer payments.
• Expenses incurred from relocation, replacing destroyed articles, repairing damage to home or possessions, temporary accommodation.
• Funerals and burials.
• Other out-of-pocket expenses such as interpreters, drugs, alcohol, protection services, self-defense courses, rehabilitation and recovery programs, special diets, unlisted phone numbers.

• Pain and suffering of the victim and her children.
• Death of victim or perpetrator, including suicides.
• Second generation effects on children who witness violence.
• Loss of freedom for incarcerated perpetrators.
• Fear of violence among women in society.

For our purpose, while the VAW survey by BBS does help in reporting the prevalence and occurrence of the incidents of VAW, the calculation of economic costs was limited to extrapolation of small scale studies conducted on the topic by various donor agencies. Most importantly, owing to severe economic development challenges faced by a large number of the population and underlying social attitudes towards female population, it is not possible to calculate the intangible costs (psychological costs mainly) of VAW which is a major cost borne by the victims and by extension their families and the entire female population of a nation. The negative externalities of incidences of VAW in any community, whether in the form of psychological impacts on the development of the young female population or the additional stress caused to families with female children is not possible to enumerate, simply due to data limitations.
Despite these limitations, care has been taken to calculate and present information based on existing data with sound economic and mathematical justifications, as applicable. Readers must therefore take heed on considering the numbers as absolute or fully representative and focus more on the broader implications of what the data suggests.

3. International Concepts and Trends on the Prevalence and Causes of VAW

Despite these serious declarations and recognitions of the problem, a WHO Factsheet on VAW reports distressing information as shown below in the following table:

 Violence against women particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence are major public health problems and violations of women’s human rights.
 Global estimates published by WHO indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
 Most of this violence is intimate partner violence. Worldwide, almost one third (30%) of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner in their lifetime.
 Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner.
 Violence can negatively affect women’s physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health, and may increase vulnerability to HIV.

Source: Factsheet on Violence Against Women, WHO, November 2016

Figure 1:
Percentage of Women who experienced violence by current husband, by different types of violence

Source: Report on Violence Against Women Survey 2011, BBS

4. National Demographic Trends And Economic Cost Analysis Of Vaw

The VAW Survey of 2011 was the first of its kind and conducted during the formulation of domestic violence act of Bangladesh. Perhaps owing to the timing of the survey and its larger purpose of contributing and shaping the Act, the focus was majorly on domestic/marital/intimate partner violence and less so on non-intimate partner violence. Despite that, the VAW Survey 2011 does provide some staggering figures which does raise several red flags.
The VAW survey recognizes four (4) main forms of violence – physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence. The survey reports on violence perpetrated by intimate partner and non-intimate partner and for each type of violence the respondents provide two indications of the timeline, violence experienced in the past twelve months and violence experienced at any point in their lives. The summary findings for violence perpetrated by intimate partner at the national level, mainly referring to husband, by type of violence and aggregate figures are shown in Figure 1. When referring to the past twelve months, 77% of women reported having experienced some form of violence from their current husband. This figure basically indicates that at least 7 out of every 10 married women have been subjected to violence by their current husband in the past year. When looking at the breakdown by types of violence, incidences of psychological violence was the highest reported form whereby 72% women mentioned having experienced it. This is followed by a little over 30% women reporting physical and economic violence, and 24% reported having experienced sexual violence. These figures are alarming when considering that this represents the condition nearly half of the country’s population, who are therefore oppressed in some form, within their own households. Given the social stigma surrounding sexual violence and the conservative and often aggressive perception regarding this in our societies, it is safe to assume that the sexual violence figures are an understatement. Additionally, since we are referring to intimate partners here, sexual violence within a marriage is not even recognized by the victims or the perpetrators. The reported incidents are usually in case of extreme sexual violence whereby the victims perhaps could not cover it under the semblance of ‘marital issues’ only.

Table 2:
Percentage of Women who experienced any type of violence in last 12 months by age group, according to locality

Source: Report on Violence Against Women Survey 2011, BBS

Table 3 shows the VAW findings on incidents of violence reported by women by non-partners, therefore mainly referring to perpetrators other than their husbands. The nationally reported figure for this is much lower at 8.4%, which is in sharp contrast to the intimate partner violence incidents discussed above. However, 25.1% women reported having experienced some form violence by non-intimate partners in their lifetime. This effectively means that at least 1 out of every 4 women of the country have experienced some form of violence from non-intimate partners in their lifetime. This is once again quite disconcerting, since this basically indicates that the female population is at risk of experiencing violence regardless of whether they are married or not, and more so, if they are married. If a national survey shows these high figures of prevalence, it indicates deep rooted misogynistic societal beliefs and also a general acceptance of the phenomenon as ‘normal’ behavior. In section 4.1, we will further explore these figures by age groups to analyze the demographic trend and highlight the age groups of women who are potentially most vulnerable to violence.

Table 3:
Percentage of Women who experienced any type of violence from non-partners, according to locality.

Source: Report on Violence Against Women Survey 2011, BBS

A USAID study, ‘Summary of Domestic Violence Against Women: Cost to the Nation Report’ was a small scale study conducted at three locations and calculated costs of the victim and their families for justice, health and lost income which was then extrapolated to calculate national costs. Within its limited scope, it reached the following findings-
“The total national cost of domestic violence against women is at least Taka 14,358 crore. This is about 12.54 percent of the government expenditure for year 2010 and 2.10 percent of GDP.”
The economic costs calculation for the purpose of this report will be broadly drawn from this study and extrapolated to estimate costs at current time period. It must be noted that the study covered three rural locations only and therefore costs calculated for victims are not nationally representative. Despite that, this would also mean that figures are understated and calculations of same at national level will indicate much higher figures. The detailed discussion of economic costs and analysis will be covered in section 4.2.

4.1 Demographic Trends and Future Estimated Direction

Table 2 shows the age-wise distribution of the percentage of women who experienced any type of violence in the preceding year. While the average percentage of women subjected to violence seem to vary marginally across age cohorts, the higher figures are clustered towards the younger age cohorts mainly the age group of 20-24 years of age of which 82.03% of women reported having experienced some form of violence. Unfortunately, the percentage for almost all the age groups except that of the 60+ years are non-discriminately above 70% which is once again an alarming figure considering that it affects more than half the female population of the country. The demographic trend also shows that the prevalence of violence is clustered majorly between the age group of 20-40 years of age and tends to decline gradually in the subsequent cohorts. This therefore requires further examination as to identify what the factors which are affecting the occurrence of incidences of violence, impact of which is getting reduced as the women ages. The factor which affects violence across age groups could be of many forms, from exposure to experience or even a general increase in tolerance among women after they reach a certain age. Identification of what is the main factor that is changing in the older age groups is what is essential to recognize the psychological and relation pattern changes which affect these declines.

Table 4:
Percentage of Women who experienced any type of non-partner violence during lifetime or in the last 12 months, by age group, according to locality


Demographically, the age-wise distribution of violence against non-intimate partners presents a distinct pattern which would be far extending repercussions at the policy level. Table 4 taken from the VAW survey shows the age-wise distribution of women who have been subjected to any form of violence by non-intimate partner in their lifetime and over the last 12 months, at the national rural and urban levels. The interesting figure is the higher percentage of women in the younger age groups 15-19, 20-24 and 25-29 years who are particularly subjected to non-partner violence as opposed to other age groups which report single digit percentages. What is unfortunately notable here is the implication of these figures which essentially points to sexual harassment or abuse of women outside of an intimate relationship and therefore also encompasses child abuse. This demographic pattern is further corroborated by figures of rape in recent years collected by Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK). These ASK figures are shown in Table 5.

The implications of the demographic patterns shown more importantly denote the need for focusing on both intimate and non-intimate violence experienced by the younger age group of women, particularly between the ages of 15-29 years of age. The abuses they face include both child and domestic abuse and this has serious repercussions for the psychological, physiological and economic status of these women/girls. Given that this also denotes the age group which also contains a majority of the child bearing age women, the abuse they face may have repercussions for health and wellness of future population as well as the economic empowerment and proliferation of half of the population of the country and by extension, the country as a whole.

4.2 Economic Cost of VAW

The economic cost calculation of cost of VAW was only limited to cost of domestic violence, since this is the only form of violence against women which has been subjected to some form of study/research. For our purposes, we are drawing extensively from the USAID study 8 which was a small scale study based on three districts conducted as household survey on a sample of 500 households. The survey calculated the economic cost of in the form of direct costs to the victims and their families in the form of justice cost, medical cost and indirect cost to same in the form of lost livelihood opportunities or income owing to damage caused by domestic violence. When referring to domestic violence here, the study referred to physical violence mainly and so for our purposes we have also calculated the costs for same, as shown in Table 6.

Table 5:
Violence against Women (Rape)

Source: Rape Report, Ain o Salish Kendra

Since the study was conducted in 2010, the costs were adjusted for inflation for each of the subsequent years and then calculated in light of the population statistics for the victims extrapolated from the VAW survey data. This simplistic exercise shows that the cost of domestic violence, under a very conservative approach, while declining, still constitute about 3.2% of the GDP in 2016. A more staggering figure is that this cost is equivalent to about 21.2% of national budget as of 2016, which is higher than the combined budgetary allocation of the health, education and social safety net combined. These figures only reveal a portion of the costs associated with VAW as costs associated with the psychological trauma and other intangible costs is not even possible to compute due to unavailability of necessary data on average labor force income. This essentially means that a very rudimentary calculation of the cost of only domestic violence shows that 23.6% of the female population is affected by this and they alone constitute costs which can be equalized to more than one-fifth of the national budget. In sharp contrast, the government social safety net programs which contain most of the limited programs targeted towards VAW as a whole constituted only 13.6% of the national budget. This clearly indicates the significant gap in the funds allocated to address the problem and the estimated costs of the same.

Table 6:
Population Statistics and Cost of Domestic Physical Violence against Women in Bangladesh

Source: Report on Violence Against Women Survey 2011, BBS

5 Policy implications, recommendations and concluding remarks

 One of the major reasons behind conducting studies to calculate economic costs of VAW has been stated as follows:
“Measuring the costs of violence against women demonstrates how violence drains resources from many sectors including private businesses and agencies, the government, community groups and individuals. This is particularly true in the developing world where it is especially important not to remove scarce resources from the promotion of healthy and viable communities. Violence against women impedes economic and social development. To make development funding go farther, reducing rates of violence is an important component of social policy. Demonstrating the waste of resources resulting from violence against women through estimating the economic costs of violence is therefore a useful exercise.” 9
 A stellar example of a developing nation and a country where the prevalence of VAW is widespread in the spheres of society and through all income groups, Bangladesh needs to take some major steps to at least collect data and conduct studies on the issue to understand it better. Upon better understanding of the issue it will allow for more evidence based policy which could than provide actual help to 50% of its population.
 Bangladesh has a budding young population which is expected to contribute greatly to its future economic growth and development. This cannot be achieved without basic security and protection of 50% of its population.
 “Factors associated with increased risk of experiencing intimate partner and sexual violence includes low education, exposure to violence between parents, abuse during childhood, attitudes accepting violence and gender inequality.” 10
Awareness campaigns and incorporation of information on domestic violence into school curriculum could go a long way to address behavioral and perspective changes towards VAW.
 An Act on domestic violence will not suffice and rather behavioral and perspective changes need to be perpetuated through education and awareness at school level, especially to address the violence faced by the younger age group.
 Need for reporting anonymously even could be a basic starting point. This has to be a collaborative effort between NGOs and Government with the victims being provided with anonymity and support as and only if asked by victims. The aim being the collection of sufficient data to create evidence backed policy which will hopefully instigate changes in mindset and perspectives in the long run.
 Bangladesh has immense potential and economic empowerment programs for women have proven time and again that development indicatives’ cannot be successful without full participation and economic and social freedom of women.
 It is time our policies reflect this, not simply through providing aid to destitute women rather trying to ensure women do not reach that state.
 Collection of data may seem like a non-direct policy initiative but in order to address such a sensitive issue, one must first understand the depth and prevalence of a problem and identify why and how it manifests itself.


Tahera Ahsan is a Policy Specialist, Advocacy for Social Change at BRAC. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not necessarily condoned by the organization. She can be reached at tahera_ahsan@hotmail.com

1. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), Statistics and Information Division (SID) and Ministry of Planning (2017). Report on Violence Against Women Survey 2011. Dhaka.
2. Violence in the Americas – A Regional Analysis Including a Review of the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women: Executive Summary, 2000.
3. Day, T., Mckenna, K., Bowlus, A., 2005, ‘the Economic Costs of Violence Against Women: An Evaluation of the Literature’, The United Nation Unies.
4. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, UN Doc A/RES/48/104, Article 1, 20 December 1993
5. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, UN Doc A/RES/48/104, Article 2, 20 December 1993.
6. Siddique. K, ‘Summary of Domestic Violence Against Women: Cost to the Nation Report’, 2010.
7. Et. al
8. Summary of Domestic Violence Against Women: Cost to the Nation Report’, 2010.
9. Day, T., Mckenna, K., Bowlus, A., 2005, ‘the Economic Costs of Violence Against Women: An Evaluation of the Literature’, The United Nation Unies.
10. WHO, Violence Against Women factsheet, November 2016.

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