Women not adequately protected from sexual violence in Asian countries: Research

New Delhi: A set of research studies on sexual violence in the South Asian region, conducted by Zubaan, show that inadequate measures exist for the protection of women from sexual violence while the present legal and social systems lend impunity to perpetrators. The research, supported by International Development Research Centre (IDRC), involves work by over 50 scholars from five countries (Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka). The three-year project has just concluded with the publication of eight books, five of which were released today at New Delhi. These publications comprise facts and analysis on the difficult and sensitive subject of sexual violence. “This qualitative research project is a first step towards breaking the silence on this issue across South Asia,” said Urvashi Butalia, Director of Zubaan and Head of the project.

Dr Anindya Chatterjee, Regional Director, IDRC’s Asia Regional Office said, “Indifference to prevalence of sexual violence, inadequate effort to address the issue through legislation and poor implementation of policies seeking to protect women lend impunity to perpetrators of sexual violence. The books on sexual violence, published by Zubaan, are meticulously put together. Advocacy for policy change requires evidence and research, which these books and their content provide. I do hope that policy-makers in the region will be able to access and use these experiences and recommendations to formulate policies that are sensitive to women and help create societies that are just and peaceful.”

The project began with the aim of bringing together the collective knowledge of South Asian academics, researchers and activists on the difficult subject of sexual violence and impunity. It sought to create a body of dependable evidence and knowledge to start ad accelerate dialogue on this difficult issue. The victims and survivors of sexual violence were placed at the centre of the research while their social surroundings were simultaneously explored to examine society’s role in preventing or permitting these acts.

Analysis shows that in recent years there has been much progress at the international level in recognizing sexual violence as a weapon of war, an instrument of torture, and a crime against humanity. The International Criminal Court (ICC) includes rape and forms of sexual violence as part of the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, and specifically enumerates rape, forced prostitution, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization and prosecution on account of gender as specific crimes punishable under the statute.

Despite the widespread prevalence of sexual violence in conflicts, wars, sub-national battles, little has happened in South Asia to hold the perpetrators of violence accountable. These volumes attempt to examine the gaps in law, medical practice, state willingness, social sanction, that work against the interests of justice for victims and survivors of sexual violence.

Experts said sexual violence is widespread and is perpetrated in wars, conflicts, pogroms as punishment, for revenge, to teach other communities a lesson. Victims and survivors find it difficult – sometimes impossible – to register reports because state institutions are reluctant to allow this. “An environment must be created where victims and survivors can speak out and be heard,” said Ms Butalia. She said urgent attention needs to be paid to the conditions that create impunity for perpetrators, whether this is by way of ineffective laws, faulty medical procedures and lack of evidence or facilities to test evidence, or social and cultural sanction. “The silence around sexual violence must be effectively broken,” she added.

Dr Chatterjee said that Work on gender and violence against women has been at the centre of IDRC’s work. IDRC supported Majlis Manch to develop a victim-centric approach to justice for the survivors of sexual violence. Majlis’ research developed Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for sexual offences which were adopted by all 93 police stations of Mumbai with more than 700 police officers trained under the initiative. We do hope these guidelines will be used throughout India. IDRC worked with Zubaan, Ain O Salish Kendra in Dhaka, Simorgh in Pakistan and the Advocacy Forum in Nepal that is leading the campaign against the 35-day limitation period on complaints of rape to the police. These are just a few of our projects that support organisations that are seeking to break the silence over sexual violence against women.

Dr Navsharan Singh, IDRC’s Senior Programme Specialist on Social and Economic Policy, said recent histories in the various countries of south Asia have shown an exponential increase in sexual violence, particularly mass violence. “Even as the incidence of sexual violence in all South Asian countries has increased, so has the silence around it. The Sexual Violence and Impunity research, led by Zubaan and supported by the IDRC, uncovers the layers of impunity sheltered in culture and legal processes, in medical and forensic practices, and strengthened by the states with the active collusion of non-state actors. By bringing new voices, mostly young, from all countries of south Asia to participate in this research and providing a platform to speak about the silences, this path-breaking work has contributed to the ongoing processes of legal and policy reforms and imagining a new south Asia free of sexual violence,” she said.

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