Domestic violence is a pandemic that costs billions of dollars a year, be it in lost work, damaged children or police time, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said on Monday.
Scotland – the first woman to run the group – urged her 53 members to count the price of doing nothing as she launched formal action to tackle the scourge.
“There’s a cost in human terms, but also in economic terms,” Scotland, a British lawyer and politician, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
“There’s no point in saying it’s someone else’s business. This is like a pandemic. It’s everybody’s business,” she said.
Violence in the home often affects a victim’s work and increases absenteeism, she said. It also costs the health services, police and criminal justice systems and may set back any children in the family, with repercussions for their future.
“If we don’t have peace in our homes, we are very unlikely to have peace in our world,” she said.
About one in three women worldwide has suffered physical or sexual violence, most frequently by a partner, but it often goes unreported due to stigma, fear and shame, said Scotland.
The Commonwealth announced on Monday – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – that it was teaming up with the NO MORE Foundation, a global movement of 1,400 organisations working to stop domestic and sexual abuse.
Some 1.1 billion women and girls live in the Commonwealth, a loose alliance of mostly former British colonies.
Domestic abuse was recently estimated to cost England and Wales about £66 billion a year, a fifth arising from lost output due to missed work and reduced productivity.
The Commonwealth has developed a tool to help governments measure the cost of violence against women and girls.
Monday’s new initiative will help members record data, train community leaders and raise public awareness.
It includes supporting LGBT+ victims.
“Our homes now come in a multiplicity of forms and we want peace in all of them,” Scotland said.
Some countries are already leading efforts to address domestic violence, she added, citing New Zealand, which this year introduced paid leave for domestic abuse victims.
In Britain, training on how to spot the signs of domestic violence is given to midwives, teachers, taxi drivers – who may be called to pick up women fleeing abuse – and locksmiths, who may be asked to make a home safe.
Globally, only two-thirds of countries have outlawed domestic violence. Among Commonwealth countries, 47 have legislation, but 33 do not explicitly criminalise marital rape and only nine offer broad protections for LGBT people.