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Time for comprehensive action to end violence against Dalit women and girls, says MRG on International Women’s Day

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On International Women’s Day, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) calls for comprehensive action to end violence against Dalit women and girls, including breaking down the barriers encountered by them at all stages of the justice system.

‘Dalit women and girls in South Asia are often doubly disadvantaged because of their caste and gender, and face an excessive prevalence of violence and discrimination. This vulnerability underscores their urgent need for effective and efficient access to justice,’ says Carl Söderbergh, MRG’s Director of Policy and Communications.

Dalit women and girls face violence not only by non-Dalits but also by members of their own communities and households. They remain vulnerable to violence that pervades their villages, their homes and their most intimate relationships. Violence is used against Dalit women and girls to reinforce both caste and gender norms.

According to deep-seated traditions, Dalits in South Asia fall outside the social hierarchy, or caste system, meaning they are seen as ‘untouchable’. Today they continue to be marginalized in many areas of life.

Violence against women currently has a particular resonance in South Asia and the wider world, after the fatal gang rape of a woman in India last December sparked protests calling for reforms to the justice system and an increase in the rate of rape convictions.

‘Access to justice is an essential component of the rule of law, without which discrimination and violence against women and girls cannot be addressed nor eradicated. Mere rhetorical disapproval by government institutions has little impact if it is not translated into practice,’ says Carl Söderbergh.

Dalit women make their demands heard on International Women’s Day 2013

Women are not just the victims of violence, they are also its leading opponents – the struggle to stamp out violence against Dalit women and girls is being led by women activists themselves, sometimes at serious risk to their own safety.

To mark International Women’s Day 2013, MRG spoke to Dalit women activists from South Asia. They paint a disturbing picture of violence against Dalit women and the barriers they face when attempting to bring their attackers to justice. They go on to outline the urgent steps which governments and the international community must take to put a stop to this centuries-long cycle of violence and impunity.

Chander Nigam, National Federation of Dalit Women, India

‘Dalit women in India face entrenched discrimination and are also more vulnerable to sexual violence than non-Dalit women. Access to justice is a challenge for all Indian women, but even more so for Dalit women, who struggle even to get the police to record their complaints. Laws exist to protect women, and Dalit women, but are very poorly implemented. It is important that police and judiciary are sensitised to the specific situation of Dalit women, and laws must be effectively implemented to bring perpetrators of sexual violence and discrimination to justice.’

Durga Sob, President, Feminist Dalit Organisation, Nepal

‘Dalit women in Nepal are disproportionately targeted for sexual violence. They suffer at the hands of non-Dalit men, as well as being subjected to domestic abuse within their own homes. In order to break free from the cycle of violence, they need two things: one, better access to justice, and two, improved livelihood options so they can be self-reliant. The government must do all it can to give justice to victims of sexual violence and discrimination, including through the establishment of fast track courts, and to improve their economic rights.’

Asha Kowtal, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, India

‘A Dalit woman faces both systemic and backlash violence. Her location at the intersection of her identity as a Dalit, a woman and from a poor community greatly increases her vulnerability and risk. Her growing assertiveness is silenced by severe backlash violence. It is imperative to be aware that the dream of gender justice cannot be achieved if the institutions reeking of caste and patriarchy are not dismantled.’

‘Our appeal to the international fraternity is to join forces with us to build a sustained pressure group to promote proper implementation of existing legislation and ensure a caste-gender framework in all new policies and laws. The goal is to end impunity and seek justice for all.’

‘It is only erstwhile ‘untouchable’ women who are dedicated as Devdasi/Jogini. Outlawed in the country, this practice still continues in clandestine ways and is now taking the guise of human trafficking. We find it difficult to celebrate. We find it difficult to dance.’

Find out more

  • Read a February 2013 submission by MRG to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination of Women on Dalit women’s access to justice, based on research by our partners in India, Dr. Ambedkar Sheti Vikas Va Sansodhan Sanstha, EVIDENCE and Navsarjan Trust.
  • MRG joins the call from UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet for women’s equal participation in all spheres of life as fundamental to democracy and justice, and supports her message that discrimination and violence against women and girls have no place in the 21st century.
  • In its 2011 State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples report, MRG documented cases from across the world showing how women from minority and indigenous communities often face disproportionately higher levels of violence

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on press@minorityrights.org.

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