Good workplaces are safe workplaces in which there is zero tolerance for violence.

By Nata Duvvury, Carol Ballantine and Caroline Forde

The world has woken up to the realities of violence in the home and in private relationships. Research comprehensively demonstrates that more than one in three women worldwide will experience intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence at some stage in their lifetimes. In our globalized world, women spend more and more time in paid work, so it’s necessary to look closely at the interaction between the workplace and private lives. We conducted a four year research project on the economic and social impacts of violence against women as part of the What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls global programme, funded by the UK Department for International Development. This short blog demonstrates the many ways in which intimate partner violence (IPV) is a workplace issue.

Intimate partner violence impacts women in the workplace negatively, undermines efforts towards gender equality at work including upward mobility of women, and makes women vulnerable to poverty and further violence. The lower performance of victimized women at work often translates into insecure and precarious work, and plays a part in deepening the dynamics of intimate partner violence and employment. Business leaders thus have an important incentive for joining the fight to end violence against women. The fight must extend to providing the right pay and conditions to protect all workers from interpersonal and structural violence.

Intimate partner violence impacts on women in the workplace in a number of ways. The most immediate physical and mental health impacts of violence are by now well-documented: as a result of injuries, illness, anxiety, depression and other conditions, working women frequently miss days of work. This can be due to absenteeism and lateness – being physically absent from the workplace – and also presenteeism, where the worker is physically present but unable to carry out their tasks. In our recent study, working women in paid and unpaid employment who had experienced IPV reported missing an average of 12 days of work annually in Ghana. This equates to a total of 13.3 million person days  lost annually. The knock-on impact is immediate: the loss of income for those victim-survivors in Ghana came to US$36 million annually.

Women’s working lives are affected in the short and long term by IPV. Lost wages, combined with hefty out-of-pocket expenses for addressing the health and material impacts of violence, can force women and their families into poverty, which in turn undermines their employment chances. Women’s employment is affected in many ways: the productivity loss from days missed means they lose out not only on wages but also on job security, training, career movement and promotions. A forthcoming study completed by our team in Ireland showed that unemployment increased significantly as a result of IPV. In all of these ways, women’s long-term earning prospects are affected, contributing to the gender wage gap. Research in Vietnam has shown that women experiencing lifetime violence have lower earnings by as much as 35%.

The workplace is not a neutral space in these dynamics. Our four year study found that 21% of employed women surveyed in their businesses in South Sudan had experienced IPV at work. This includes through phone calls and text messages, physical intimidation, and harassment by an abusive partner. Insecure conditions in the workplace also drive the interpersonal dynamics of violence. Women’s unstable employment status is shown to be a risk factor for IPV. While the relationship between violence and work is complex, sudden job losses and extreme employment precarity are undoubtedly damaging to efforts to eliminate IPV.

Self-employment may also be a risk factor for violence: in Ghana, we found self-employed women had an IPV prevalence rate of 39%, compared to 30% for wage or contract employed women. Placed in the context of the “gig” or “on demand” economy, this is a worrying finding, which replicates similar insights from studies in Vietnam and Ecuador. As workplace trends move away from secure contract jobs and towards “self-employment” and precarious contracts, this is likely to increase vulnerability to intimate partner violence.

It is clear then that in spite of its name, domestic violence is far from a domestic issue. If efforts to increase women’s economic participation are to be taken seriously, it is imperative that we work together to eliminate IPV. Violence increases women’s poverty, undermines their employment opportunities, and reinforces gender inequality. (It also, incidentally, costs businesses dearly in lost productivity, lost earnings, and lost human potential). By contrast, employment mitigates poverty, while providing financial independence and a greater capacity to leave an abusive relationship. Indeed, it has been established that employment alleviates social isolation, while providing mental respite for women experiencing IPV. However, the growing number of studies showing the substantial negative impact of IPV on women’s employment complicates this picture and highlights the need for a more nuanced and holistic approach.

Good workplaces are safe workplaces, in which there is zero tolerance for any form of violence. They are also secure, providing living wages, supporting unionization, and ensuring clear terms and conditions of work. An alliance of women’s rights organisations, governments and business leaders can make a real difference to the global problem of violence against women, and in doing so, can improve women’s secure, lasting economic participation.

Nata Duvvury is Director of the Centre for Global Women’s Studies an National University of Ireland Galway. She is an international development expert with more than 30 years of experience in gender, development and empowerment. Her work includes research and advocacy on gender-based violence, women and agriculture, women’s property rights and HIV and AIDS in a variety of settings including conflict and post-conflict contexts. She is currently the Director for the project on Economic and Social Costs of Violence Against Women and Girls, which a part of What Works to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG), a flagship programme from the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

Carol Ballantine is a PhD researcher in the Centre for Global Women’s Studies in NUI Galway, with interests in gender, identity and migration. Her PhD research focuses on the social impacts of violence against women, and the role of stigma in mediating these. Her research is part of the research project on the Economic and Social Costs of Violence Against Women and Girls, which is a part of What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls, a flagship programme of the UK Department for International Development. 

Caroline Forde is a postdoctoral researcher with the Centre for Global Women’s Studies at NUI Galway. Her work focuses on gender-based violence (GBV), particularly in relation to gender identity, trauma, social and economic costs of GBV and recovery. Caroline is currently working on a costs of domestic violence study in Mongolia and a project to develop a global costing tool to estimate the resource requirements for a minimum package of services for the United Nations Joint Programme on Essential Services for Women and Girls Subject to Violence.