International Women’s Day 2020: Why the fight must continue…

As the world observes International Women’s Day 2020, here’s a look at some of the lesser known facts and statistics about the situation of women’s rights in some of the countries in South Asia.

…that women human rights defenders in Afghanistan are facing violence, threats and other forms of discrimination from both state and non-state actors?
Many women human rights defenders are questioned for their human rights work, labelled as ‘anti-religion’ and ‘anti-culture’ and are targeted for challenging injustices. Yet they push boundaries set by patriarchal customs and face threats from the Taliban and other armed groups. They are teachers who are supporting the right to education of girls and boys. They are journalists who advance the right to freedom of expression. They are whistleblowers who expose allegations of corruption and other abuses of government and its officials. They are all human rights defenders, who work to contribute to the protection and promotion of human rights in the country. This happens even while their friends and fellow activists are shot dead, kidnapped, harassed and threatened. Sometimes, entire provinces lay under siege due to Taliban attacks while members of the armed group go from house to house, looking for human rights defenders. Often these attacks are not properly documented or investigated. Though the government has an obligation to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the human rights of these activists, there have been no concrete steps to identify the suspected perpetrators and bring them to justice.

BANGLADESHDid you know
…that in Bangladesh, increasing incidents of violence against women outweigh justice?
In 2019, there were at least 17,900 incidents of violence against women registered by the Bangladesh Police, including 5,400 cases of rape. That is at least 1,000 incidents of rape more than the average of four years since 2014. In 2019, at least 988 women and girls (including 103 girls aged between 7-12 years) were murdered after suffering rape, attempted rape, physical torture, acid violence, or dowry-related violence. Despite these horrific numbers, only 3% of cases related to violence against women result in a conviction in Bangladesh. That is without even taking into account whether accountability, transparency of investigation and fair trial procedures were met in compliance with the international human rights law. CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) Committee, during the last review in 2016 asked the Bangladesh government to adopt, without delay, legislation criminalizing all forms of violence against women and girls. This included marital rape irrespective of the age of the victim, domestic violence and all forms of sexual violence.  It asked to ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and adequately punished and that the survivors have access to immediate protection, rehabilitation and means of redress, including compensation. Instead of carrying out the comprehensive reforms of the justice system required to make this a reality, however, some Bangladeshi lawmakers in January 2020, proposed at the Bangladesh Parliament to authorize extrajudicial execution to stop the crime.

MALDIVESDid you know
…that 96% of women in Maldives have experienced street harassment at some point in their lives?
According to UNFPA Maldives, 60% of women face harassment before they turn sixteen years of age, and 40% report being harassed before they turned ten. 89% of the victims have never reported the harassments they face to the police. Women find it a part of their daily lives to be harassed on the streets and little to no action is taken against perpetrators. According to Nufoshey – the anti-street harassment movement in Maldives – 17% of women and 16% of men reported that they were helped by a bystander when they faced harassment. Taking a different route to avoid being harassed (76.6%), avoid going out alone (66.8%), or avoid areas where they feel unsafe (67.3%) are the kind of options available for women in Maldives, according to a survey conducted by Nufoshey. The first time charges were raised over street harassment in Maldives was in 2019, when a woman posted on social media a video of a man following her and harassing her.

NEPALDid you know
…that dozens of women in Nepal have died or faced sexual violence due to a practice called Chhaupadi – banishment during menstruation?
Believing that women and girls are “impure” and “untouchable” after childbirth and during menstruation, families and communities often regulate what and whom women and girls can touch during menstruation. They are forced to live in a livestock-shed or a separate hut called Chhaupadi hut. These open sheds are frequently dirty, and unsafe, and lack protection from severe weather. In recent years there have been numerous reports of how women and girls have been subject to sexual violence while in Chhaupadi huts or died of freezing cold; suffocation; smoke-inhalation from the fire set up for warmth; snake-bites or wild animal attacks. Infants and children often accompany their mothers to the Chhaupadi huts, and are subjected to these same hazardous environment, and in some cases, have perished along with their mothers. After widespread pressure, the government criminalized the practice through a law in August 2017. It was only in December 2019, that the first arrest of a family member was made for the death of a woman. Despite the law, the practice continues to be prevalent in mid and far western parts of Nepal. Only recently has the federal and local governments taken some measures to include incentive and disincentive programs, but they too remain inadequate

PAKISTANDid you know
…that for every one hour a man spends on unpaid care and domestic work, Pakistani women spend 11 hours doing the same?
According to the UN Women’s report Progress of the World’s Women 2019-2020, women in Pakistan suffer the worst disparity in unpaid care work in the world. This persistent gender inequality within family structures has a detrimental effect on women’s ability to earn their own income and explore economic opportunities – contributing to the very low labour force participation rate of women of only 23.9%. As the UN Women Report explains, unpaid work also means no coverage by labour law, no protection by social security, no minimum wage and no guarantees of paid or maternity leave. Even for women who are part of the workforce, there still exists a stark gender pay gap as high as 34%. According to Pakistan’s latest CEDAW report, that is more than twice the global average! Senior and middle management positions are seldom occupied by women and only 1% of entrepreneurs in Pakistan are women. Family laws in Pakistan must be amended and reformed urgently, and women’s access to family resources (often controlled by the male family members) must be guaranteed not only to close the gap between the domestic labour unpaid care work by men and women but allow women to make their independence a reality.

SRI LANKADid you know
…that in Sri Lanka, 142 cases of rape, and 42 cases of “serious sexual abuse, and 54 child abuse” cases reported in the country during just the first 15 days of 2020?
According to the Sri Lankan government, investigations have already been completed into 78 of the rape cases, 21 of the serious sexual violence cases and 34 of the child abuse cases. However, according to the government statistics submitted for the 2019 CEDAW review, 379 cases of rape of women and girls over 16 years of age were reported in 2015 but 365 cases were pending completion of investigations by the end of the year, in 2016, out of 350 cases of rape reported, 337 were pending by the year-end. 294 cases of rape were reported in 2017, with 281 cases pending. The total number of rape cases in the country is much higher because many go unreported. A large number of cases also sit with the Attorney General’s department, while only a smaller percentage of the cases make it to Magistrates and High Courts. Impunity for sexual and gender-based violence is high in Sri Lanka, despite repeated assurances by consecutive governments to address the issue.

This is why we must continue to fight.

We must march.We must protest.
We must rise.
We must push back.
We must stand up.