"Many countries in the Arab region still see violence against women and deal with it as a private issue and not a public issue"
By Heba Kanso
BEIRUT, Oct 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The United Nations called on Arab nations on Wednesday to calculate the economic cost of violence against women, in a bid to promote policy reform in a region where the issue is a taboo.
Only a handful of Arab states have laws that specifically tackle violence against women - be it marital rape, honour killings or incest, said the group, which was led by the U.N.'s agency on women.
"Many countries in the Arab region still see violence against women and deal with it as a private issue and not a public issue," said Mehrinaz Elawady of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).
"Costing (the) violence would help the government and the state understand that ... it is not only affecting the abused woman, it is also affecting the entire economy," the director of ESCWA's Centre for Women told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Egypt used a model recommended by the U.N. to estimate in 2015 that gender-based violence cost it 2.17 billion Egyptian pounds ($123 million) a year.
There is no data on the scale of violence against women in the Arab world.
The World Health Organization says 37 percent of women in the Eastern Mediterranean, which includes many Arab states, have been physically or sexually abused by their husband or boyfriend.
Some Middle Eastern countries are stepping up their protection of women.
Tunisia ended a law in July that allowed a rapist to escape punishment if he married his victim.
"There is change that is happening," said Mohammad Naciri, UN Women's regional director for Arab States.
"But we are just at the beginning."
Traditional beliefs, whereby women are seen as wives and mothers with a limited life outside the home, need to change to make it easier for them to work, he said.
Conflict in the troubled region also contributes to poverty and violence in the home, as families are less able to move around freely or work.
"Eliminating violence is the right thing to do," he said.
"What we need to say to our audience, which is the policy makers in the region, is that it is also the smart thing to do." ($1 = 17.6100 Egyptian pounds)
(Reporting by Heba Kanso @hebakanso, Editing by Katy Migiro and Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)
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