Dalit human rights defenders and UN experts raise concerns over intersectional caste and gender discrimination and its adverse impact on access to human rights, at the Dalit Women and Gender Justice side-event at the UN Human Rights Council’s 41st Session in Geneva.

On 25 June 2019, IDSN International Associate IMADR, and others organised a side-event during the 41st Session of the Human Rights Council, on Dalit women and gender justice. The panel was composed of Dubravka Simonovic, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Renu Sijapati, General Secretary of the Feminist Dalit Organization (FEDO-Nepal) and Abirami Jotheeswaran, from the National Dalit Movement for Justice-National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NDMJ-NCDHR). The event was moderated by Henri Tiphagne, from Peoples’ Watch, in India.

Watch the full video stream of the HRC41 side-event on Dalit Women and Gender Justice:

Live now! Side Event #HRC41 : “Dalit Women and Gender Justice” at the UN Geneva Tuesday 25 June 2019, 2.30-3.30 pmPalais des Nations, Room IXPanel:- Henri Tiphagne: Indian lawyer, Human rights defender who created the NGO "People's Watch"- Dubravka Simonovic: UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences- Renu Sijapati: General Secretary, Feminist Dalit Organization Nepal- Abirami Jotheeswaran: National Program Coordinator, National Dalit Movement for Justice – NCDHREvent organized by @International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) Co-sponsored by: Minority Rights Group International, Human Rights Watch, Anti-Slavery International, The Lutheran World Federation, Civicus, Geneva, Franciscans InternationalSupported by: International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN)Livestreamed by Red Internacional de Derechos Humanos

Posted by Red Internacional de Derechos Humanos on Tuesday, June 25, 2019


The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Dubravka Simonovic underscored that Dalit women face intersectional discrimination, on the grounds of gender and work and descent. Her rapporteurship has been focused on the gaps and responsibilities of the governments to prevent and address violence against women in this context. She illustrated her point with her official report on Nepal, after visiting the country last October. In that report, the rapporteur made specific recommendations to Nepal in order to implement the important constitutional and legislative modifications made in the country recently, so that the government recognises caste-based discrimination and addresses it.

“In Nepal there is good constitutional language on violence against women but on the other hand there is a huge implementation gap, we must focus on implementation and see how to look into concrete cases and look at how these can be addressed by my mandate and other UN mechanisms,” The UN expert said, “My suggestion for everyone trying to work to end caste and gender discrimination is to use all the UN mechanisms available to submit cases and concrete examples to.”

Ms. Simonovic also encouraged the establishment of a National Action Plan for violence against Dalit women.

“I am advocating for a specific National Action Plan to address violence against Dalit Women, and it is now important to raise those recommendations with the Government and national actors, to see how this can be implemented. I hope my recommendations will be used at the national level by the Government, NGOs, Human Rights institutions and the many UN agencies working in Nepal.”

Renu Sijapati speaking at UN HRC41 Caste Gender Justice EventRenu Sijapati, General Secretary of the Feminist Dalit Organization (FEDO-Nepal), reminded the audience of the diverse forms of discrimination and oppression Dalit women face including social, political and financial discrimination. Other violations that disproportionately affect Dalit women, include trafficking, sexual violence and rape and torture, Ms. Sijapati explained.

In Nepal, out of the total number of women raped, 20% are Dalits. Moreover, 80% of Dalit women and girls are killed after being raped. She called for increased action to address the extreme intersectional discrimination faced by Dalit women in Nepal who face abuse and violence at all levels of society and are not given access to justice or Government mechanisms.

Ms. Sijapati told the audience that prejudice and violence against Dalit women is particularly persistent within their own communities. Increased migration of Dalit women who flee their hometowns, due to oppression and lack of opportunities, aggravate their situation in large cities, in view of their lack of skills for decent work opportunities.

Abirami Jotheeswaran speaking at UN HRC41 Caste Gender Justice EventAbirami Jotheeswaran, from the National Dalit Movement for Justice-National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NDMJ-NCDHR) – India, echoed the concerns of Ms. Sijapati. India has passed several laws and regulations prohibiting caste-based discrimination, but implementation is the main challenge. In order to overcome this large implementation gap, there is a need to identify caste and gender sensitive advocates that help Dalit victims and survivors.

Similar to the situation in Nepal, 25% of women abused are Dalits and this figure keeps increasing. The Dalit community has been presenting information on these violations for the past 20 years to the international fora, like the UN, said Ms. Jotheeswaran stressing that,

“Eliminating caste-based discrimination is not just the responsibility of Dalits but the responsibility of all people globally, Dalit rights are human rights.”

Ms. Jotheeswaran explained that Dalit rights defenders are asking international bodies to extend solidarity to ensure that international mechanisms are pushing for the elimination of caste-based discrimination.

Following the presentations, the Second Secretary of the UN Mission of Nepal to the UN Human Rights Council, stated that Nepal was working on a large-scale legislative overhaul and was welcoming all input from Dalit women’s rights organisations. She commented that she is very proud of Nepal’s civil society and glad that the UN Special Rapporteur visited Nepal and has issued recommendations, and that Nepal is committed to working to end caste and gender discrimination through the use of relevant UN mechanisms.

Beena Pallical, General Secretary of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR-India), added reflections about other forms of violence against Dalit women from the floor, such as limited access to public water and sanitation. Women from Dalit communities that are engaged in manual scavenging often face the brunt of discrimination, Ms. Pallical said. Moreover, affirmative action for government positions is overrepresented at the local levels and underrepresented at regional and national levels. Ms. Pallical argued for the need to continue to build assets for Dalit women, ownership of property, land in name of women, policies on discrimination and to ensure that women are part of decision making at all levels.

Ritwajit Das, a Dalit rights defender working on climate change, shared a positive case example of the Deccan Development Society, an organisation that promotes women-led regenerative agriculture and seed banks to empower Dalit women, which has won the prestigious UN Equator Prize 2019. His statement underscored that Dalit women are agents of change, within the spirit of the SDGs.

The side-event was organised by the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) and co-sponsored by Minority Rights Group International, Human Rights Watch, Anti-Slavery International, Lutheran World Federation, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Franciscans International.

The event was live-streamed by the human rights organisation RIDH with over 900 views and had very good attendance. Significant social media activity surrounded the event, including on Twitter and Facebook. The panelists subsequently also took part in meetings and dialogues at the Human Rights Council and an interview with Abirami Jotheeswaran was published by the site Feminism in India.

See some of the tweets from the event here: