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More than one billion women lack legal protection against domestic sexual violence, says new research from the World Bank. The study, Global and Regional Trends in Women’s Legal Protection Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Harassment, also found that close to 1.4 billion women lack legal protection

against domestic economic violence. Economic abuse entails controlling a woman’s ability to access economic resources (money, education or employment) as a form of intimidation and coercion. In addition, women are often not legally protected against specific types of sexual harassment outside the home, such as at work, school, and in public places.

Violence against women takes many forms, including physical, sexual, emotional, and economic. Violence leads to negative and, at times, dramatic mental and physical health consequences. It leads to increased absenteeism at work and limits mobility, thereby reducing productivity and earnings. It leads girls to drop out of school because going to school puts them at risk of abuse. It affects women’s decision-making ability within the household, including being able to seek services when needed.

“Gender-based violence is a global epidemic that endangers the life of women and girls with a wide range of negative consequences not only for them, but also for their children and communities. Ending this scourge is integral to the development of women’s human capital and unleashing their contribution to economic growth,” said Quentin Wodon, World Bank lead economist and co-author of the study. 

The elimination by 2030 of all forms of violence against women and girls, and of all harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation, are two of the targets adopted under the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. These targets have intrinsic value, but they also matter for reducing poverty and creating inclusive societies. As just one example, ending sexual harassment in schools can boost educational attainment for girls, leading to higher earnings in adulthood.

“Laws against gender-based violence are an important first step to protect women, yet legal protection remains weak in many countries,” said Paula Tavares, World Bank legal gender specialist and co-author of the research.

The report, supported by the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation and the Global Partnership for Education, examines laws against domestic violence and sexual harassment across 141 countries covered by the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law program.

Based on an analysis of 141 countries, the share of countries with laws to protect women against domestic violence increased from 71 percent to 76 percent between 2013 and 2017. But legal protection remains much weaker for specific types of domestic violence. For sexual violence experienced at home at the hand of an intimate partner or family member, laws are lacking in more than one in three countries. For domestic economic violence, half of the countries do not have specific legislation. For two in three countries, unmarried intimate partners are not protected under the laws.

When it comes to sexual harassment outside the home, four in five countries have laws, but again these laws often do not cover all forms of harassment, such as sexual harassment in the workplace, in schools and on the streets. One in five countries do not have appropriate laws against sexual harassment in employment. The proportion is six in 10 countries for sexual harassment in education, and four in five countries for sexual harassment in public spaces.

Global and Regional Trends in Women’s Legal Protection Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Harassment draws on data from the Women, Business and Law report. The next edition of the report and its accompanying datasets are slated for release in late March.

The research on legal protection against domestic violence and sexual harassment is part of a larger program at the World Bank on gender-based violence. In June, the World Bank released estimates of the economic costs of child marriage, another form of gender-based violence. The research suggested, among other findings, that delaying marriage and investing in girls’ education could reduce the risks of intimate partner violence for women.

 

Addressing GBV is now part of a number of projects at the World Bank in more than a dozen countries working through various sectors such as transport and social protection. In addition, in 2017, the World Bank announced a set of innovation grants, totaling $3.4 million over five years, designed to better prevent and respond to GBV. Focusing on its internal policies and procedures, the World Bank launched a GBV taskforce to strengthen the institution’s response to issues involving sexual exploitation and abuse. The taskforce’s recommendations led to an Action Plan outlining measures being undertaken to help prevent and respond appropriately to incidences of sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as other forms of GBV in projects it supports.

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