Violence against women in Asia is rising rapidly and taking a big toll not only on families and homes but also on economies and productivity in the region, officials and experts said Friday.
In Vietnam, where 30 percent of the women report physical, sexual, or psychological harm, a U.N. study said the incidence of violence experienced by women and girls is high and pervasive, cutting across all socio-economic groups, education levels, and regions.
In China, a published study by the All China Women's Federation indicated that around one in four women will experience domestic violence at some point in her life while other studies suggested as many as two in three women could be affected in some rural areas.
The upsurge in violence in the world's most populous nation was highlighted in the recent case of a woman who was sentenced to death for killing her husband following months of violent abuse, which local authorities had failed to act against despite her begging for protection.
Lawyers, scholars and rights groups are now demanding that the government spare the life of 41-year-old Li Yan from Sichuan province.
Her husband, according to rights groups, had kicked and beaten her, stubbed out cigarettes on her face, cut off part of her finger, locked her in their home during the day without food or drink, and left her out on the balcony in wintertime while she was only partially clothed.
In Cambodia, newspapers just this week reported that five men drugged and gang-raped a woman to the point of unconsciousness at Koh Dach Port in Phnom Penh. Her ordeal lasted for hours.
"The statistics on violence against women and girls in our region continue to shock," Pieter Van Maaren, United Nations Resident Coordinator ad interim in Cambodia said in an op-ed published on the U.N. website Friday.
It was written in conjunction with International Women's Day, which is marked this year on the theme "Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls."
According to one recent U.N. survey, one in four men in the Asia-Pacific region admit to rape, with 5 percent of Cambodian men admitting to gang rape.
In India, the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in the capital New Delhi in December shocked the country and triggered a debate about the treatment of women. She has now become the spiritual torchbearer of a popular movement to end violence against women in the country.
Women and girls are also the biggest victims of human trafficking—they comprise 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked annually across the world, with the majority—79 percent—trafficked for sexual exploitation.
Asia is home to the largest numbers of “missing women” in the world, according to the Manila-based Asian Development Bank, which said women’s safety in public and private spaces remains precarious across the region.
"While progress and ‘modernity’ is evident everywhere across the region, the progress is spurious if 50 percent of the population—women and girls—continue to live under constant fear and terror of violence," the bank's gender expert Shireen Lateef said.
"This is not progress. This is simply unacceptable," she said in a report, highlighting the prevalence of sexual assault, harassment, domestic violence, female trafficking, and pre-natal sex selection across the region.
According to estimates, up to seven in 10 women around the world will be beaten, raped, abused, or mutilated in their lifetimes, the U.N. said.
Violence against women is a gross human rights violation, the U.N. said, adding that it fractures families and communities, hampers development, and costs countries billions of dollars annually in health-care costs and lost productivity.
An unprecedented U.N. study on the economic effects of the cost of violence against women in Vietnam showed the country is losing 1.78 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), the value of its goods and services produced, in estimated productivity from the violence—more than U.S. $2 billion dollars a year.
The gender-based violence had an "enormous economic, psychological and social toll" on survivors, their households and communities as well as for the country as a whole, the study said.
Cost analyses of violence against women carried out in several other countries, including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, reveal that the annual cost may vary from U.S. $1.16 billion to U.S. $32.9 billion, in spite of significant progress, the U.N. said.
"Some of these studies also highlight the serious consequences domestic violence has on the well-being and health of victims, their children and friends and family, demonstrating how the intimate relationship between women and men is in fact a public matter with widespread consequences," it said.
Studies also reveal increasing links between violence against women, HIV and AIDS, and food security.
"Violence or the fear of violence can prevent women from negotiating safer sex. At the same time women living with HIV are often more vulnerable to violence, which can stop women from getting the HIV care and treatment they need," Executive Director Michel Sidibe said in a report.
"Today, half of all people living with HIV are women. Every minute one young woman is infected with HIV. This is not acceptable," he said.
Domestic violence also has an overall negative impact on agricultural production and family well-being as women make up more than 40 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries.
"For many women struggling to feed themselves and their children today, food security would mean personal and legal security."