By Likeleli Monyamane
Last weekend, Rethabile Mofolo was laid to rest. Rethabile was allegedly attacked by her husband and denied proper medical attention, resulting in her death a week later. Statistically, Rethabile represents 33% of women and girls who experience intimate partner violence in Lesotho (UN Women, 2020). Many of whom do not report the abuse they endure. For those who report, not much is done because law enforcement authorities lack the capacity and resources to respond. As a result, too many Basotho women end up dead due to Gender-Based Violence (GBV). Even when the abuse is not fatal, GBV’s impact on individuals, families, communities, and nations is significant. Therefore, the silence of the business community at Rethabile Mofolo’s death is deafening.
What is Gender-Based Violence (GBV)
Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is described by The European Institute of Gender Studies as “a phenomenon deeply rooted in gender inequality.” Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) is a term that is used interchangeably with GBV because most violence against women and girls is inflicted by men. Additionally, GBV applies to the LGBTQ+ community who face violence due to gender identity and sexual orientation.
Why the business community should care
In the past, when we talked about GBV, we automatically assumed it meant Domestic Violence. Domestic Violence was an issue not considered worthy of the business community’s attention. However, GBV can take many forms, including Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), Sexual Violence, and Intimate Partner Violence – all of which also exist in the workplace. Furthermore, research now indicates that violence experienced by women in intimate relationships hurts their physical and mental health. Additionally, GBV disempowers women from participating fully in society. The Institute for Security Studies highlights how GBV links to “increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, job losses and lost opportunities for career progression.”
Additionally, GBV has been identified in a 2018 study by Oxfam-Strongim Bisnis as the primary barrier for women’s business aspirations. GBV is found to affect women’s ability to “move around and between their business, restricting access to services and limiting their voice for decision-making.” Furthermore, while women’s economic empowerment allows women to be independent, it can also trigger violence as it affects power dynamics in the home. As a result, women in business require support to gain the financial independence they need to leave abusive relationships without disrupting their economic activities while being subjected to GBV.
Lastly, GBV’s impact does not end in the workplace but further harms the overall economy. A study on The Economic Cost of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) in Lesotho released by the Commonwealth in September 2020 resulted in the following findings:
- Lesotho loses an estimated M1.9 billion a year because of GBV. This is a significant loss. Even corruption, which was estimated to cost the country a minimum of M1.4 billion between 2013 – 2016 by the Public Accounts Committee, is cheaper than the cost of GBV.
- GBV resulted in a reduction of household income by M675 million a year, resulting in a loss to the private sector of 1.9% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
- The cost of GBV exceeds the investments made in areas such as health, education, and energy. Therefore, GBV counteracts any positive developments taking place in Lesotho’s economic growth.
What action can be taken
The business community is uniquely positioned to contribute to ending GBV in our society as it has the financial muscle and the influence to reach a broad range of stakeholders. Therefore, it can make some of the following actions to prevent GBV:
- Education and awareness campaigns about gender equality and GBV extends beyond the workplace to reach customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders.
- Making GBV an integral part of Corporate Social Investment (CSI) strategy.
- Developing initiatives to empower and engage men in understanding their role in preventing GBV.
Other measures that can be taken to provide support to GBV victims after they have experienced violence are the following:
- Allocating resources to helping employees who are victims of GBV.
- Amending HR policies to provide better support to victims.
- Providing financial support to victims to ensure minimized economic disruption as they transition out of an abusive relationship.
Call to Action
During Rethabile’s memorial and funeral services, many speakers expressed how senseless her death was. We should continue to reflect on the ripple effects that her death will have on our economy. On the 25th of November, the annual international campaign of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence begins. The 2021 theme is Orange the world: End violence against women now! I challenge every business leader in the private sector to make a statement on what they will lead to ending GBV and its effects on our society.