Islamabad - Speakers at a conference here on Thursday urged for collective struggle and structural reforms to challenge Violence Against Women (VAW) in South Asian countries particularly. The three-day South Asian conference on “Reclaiming Space: from victimhood to agency: State and civil society response to VAW” organized by Rozan in Islamabad was widely attended by women activists from all over Pakistan who were joined by delegates from India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Mukharan Mai, the chief guest of session shared her own story from a victim of violence to a survivor and then an activist taking forward the movement for education of young girls. With the motto to “stop violence through education”, Mukhtaran weaved the struggle of VAW by educating not only women but also men in her region.
Rashida Manjoo, UN’s Special Rapporteur on VAW said that “violence against women is universal and its pervasiveness across the boundaries of nation, culture, race and religion points to its roots in patriarchy – the systemic domination of women by men.” She believed that there remains a “nexus between poverty, exclusion and violence against women” and lamented that in “many societies, domestic violence continues to be perceived both as socially acceptable and legitimate, and goes underreported.”
Addressing the inaugural ceremony of the conference, speakers shared the deteriorating situation of VAW in their regions, while highlighting the significant women struggles and achievements in the form of legal amendments.
Ms. Kamla Bhasin, a renowned Indian feminist activist criticised the system of capitalism and neo-liberalism, calling it “greed-based paradigm of development” which causes injustice as “capitalism creates victims of perpetrators through weapons which in turn create victims of violence.” Encouraging the women to unite to fight VAW, she clarified that “fight against violence is not fight against men”, adding that opposite of patriarchy is equality for all, which can be made possible through “change of hearts rather than change of bills in parliament.”
Speaking at the session, Dr. Hameeda Hosain of Bangladesh presented a picture of violence against women in Dhaka and shared the stories of the ill-fated women victims.
Ms. Bandana Rana of Nepal highlighted that how dowry-related violence is prevalent in Nepal where women are often married to Indian men and then sent back to claim dowry. On a positive note, “Nepal is the first country in South Asia to have a National Action Plan for women empowerment.”
Ms. Subhangi M. K. Herath, lecturer at Universit of Colombo spoke about women issues in Sri Lanka and presented the statistics of VAW in her country and also the existing laws and their implementation mechanism. Later, Ms. Nighat Said Khan of Pakistan, in her presentation, lamented the low indicators of women development in Pakistan and highlighted how women are struggling for their say in decision making power.
The second session focused on the structural changes on VAW. The session reviewed the national legislative frameworks to combat domestic violence, sexual harassment and rape across South Asia with a special focus on experiences around implementation and the challenge it posed.
Ms. Sapana Pradhan Malla, a Member of Constituent Assembly in Nepal, underlined the need for legislative measures in combating the crime. She also shared about such legislative measures in Nepal where marital rape is not recognized. Later, Ms. Paroma Ray from India and Ms. Shyamala Gomez from Sri Lanka also presented their papers on the legislative measures in their respective countries. Hina Jilani, women’s rights lawyer cited several cases where women have been subjected to violence and also shared that corrective measures that provide deterrence are essential and thus legislation is a critical area.