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Dalit women’s access to justice: Written contribution to the General Discussion on “access to justice”

5 March 2013

CEDAW 54th Session, February 2013

MRG wishes to contribute to the deliberations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination of Women leading towards a general recommendation on access to justice, by submitting this report focussing on the challenges facing Dalit women in India. Our hope is that lessons learned concerning the plight of Dalit women in India may assist and illuminate the work of the Committee.

This submission draws upon research led by MRG’s partners in India: Dr. Ambedkar Sheti Vikas Va Sansodhan Sanstha, EVIDENCE and Navsarjan Trust, in an effort to contribute to the development of the general recommendations on access to justice with particular attention to the additional barriers to justice faced by women from minority groups, specifically Dalit women.

Access to justice is an essential component of the rule of law, without which discrimination and violence against women and girls of minority or majority groups cannot be addressed nor eradicated. Mere rhetorical disapproval by government institutions and legislation has none or little impact if it is not translated into practice. To be translated into practice, the reality of women’s access to justice and their ability to redress discrimination and violence must be surveyed and barriers transparently exposed.

The specific manner in which minority or indigenous women and girls experience multiple forms of discrimination is a key component of MRG’s work. While women face particular legal, institutional and structural challenges in accessing justice as well as distinct social barriers, and practical and economic challenges, “gender-based discrimination [is] compounded by other biases” . Women and girls belonging to minority or indigenous communities are often doubly disadvantaged and face excessive prevalence of violence and discrimination, underscoring their urgent need for effective and efficient access to justice.

Three partner organizations of MRG have undertaken research to analyse data on cases of violence against Scheduled Caste women in three regions and their selected districts, in order to assess the extent of their access to justice. They noted that in the case of Dalit women, impunity and lack of access to justice works to socially legitimise violence and discrimination against Dalit women, which in turn reinforces gender and caste norms. At the outset it must be noted that MRG’s partners faced difficulties in collecting information. In particular, most of the data that is available is disaggregated either by gender or caste but not in both categories (or also with regard to other forms of marginalisation, such as ethnicity or religion).

Download the full submission here.