Dalit human rights defenders from India, Nepal and Bangladesh voiced their concerns about effective political participation of Dalit women at the 4th session of the UN Forum on Minority Issues. The thematic focus of the session, which was held in Geneva on 29-30 November 2011, was “Guaranteeing the rights of minority women”.

Several Dalit representatives actively participated in the panel discussions and side events of the Forum. They spoke about the conditions and obstacles faced by Dalit women in relation to political participation in their respective countries and about their work with human rights.

When summing up her experience, Ms. Pushpa Vaghela, a Dalit women’s leader from Navsarjan Trust in India, explains that it was “a good learning experience” to see how the UN system works and to meet other minority representatives from all over the world. Despite the different cultures, issues, and language, she says that “the vision and mission is the same” for all participants. She concludes that overall it was “a great memory of life to understand, know, struggle, and learn” from this event.

During the Forum’s sessions, two Dalit women leaders made presentations in the panel discussion on minority women and effective political participation, on 29 November. Ms. Sonu Rani, who is associated with the Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Rights Movement, and Ms. Renu Sijapati from the Feminist Dalit Organisation in Nepal gave presentations about the conditions and obstacles to effective political participation of Dalit women in Bangladesh and Nepal respectively. In the plenary, Ms. Anita Bishanka from NNDSWO also gave a statement about Dalit women’s participation in Nepal.

On 29 November, the OHCHR organized a side event called “Empowering Minority Women to Claim Their Rights: Identifying effective practices”. The event gave consideration to the empowerment of minority women in practical and concrete ways, both within their communities and in the wider society. At this event, Ms. Renu Sijapati from Nepal also spoke.

The Minority Rights Group (MRG) and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples’ Organisation (UNPO) held a panel discussion on “Violence against minority women and their access to justice” on 30 November. Ms. Thilagam Ramalingam, a Dalit women’s leader from Tamil Nadu in India, spoke about her work with Evidence, an NGO that focuses on monitoring Dalit rights and promoting social justice for Dalit women.

Representation of Dalit leaders was, among others, supported by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Minority Rights Group International and the International Dalit Solidarity Network.

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