The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Rashida Manjoo called for the adoption of different norms and measures to fight violence against women around the world and a binding standard of accountability at the international level.

Ms. Manjoo stressed that “with global estimates reaching epidemic proportions, it is deplorable that combatting violence against women has not yet attracted the same level of focus, commitment and resources as non-gendered crimes.” IDSN specifically calls for a status report on the situation of Violence against Dalit Women in South Asia and a UN led or initiated campaign

The call from Ms. Manjoo came half-way through the international campaign against violence against women and in anticipation of Human Rights Day on 10 December. The Special Rapporteur put forward the urgent need for a different set of legally binding standards with a specific monitoring body to ensure effective examination and accountability of States and underlined that transformative change requires a commitment by States’ to be bound by specific legal obligations in the quest for elimination of this widespread human rights violation.

In spite of the significant milestones achieved in advancing women’s rights and gender equality, at the national, regional and international levels, there remains both continuing and new sets of challenges that hamper efforts to promote and protect the human rights of women. As noted by Ms. Manjoo, “this is largely due to the lack of a holistic approach that addresses individual, institutional and structural factors that are a cause and a consequence of violence against women.”
her reports to the Human Rights Council, Ms. Rashida Manjoo has identified caste-based discrimination as one of these on-going challenges. As stated by Ms. Manjoo, ”the intergenerational nature of caste-based discrimination condemns women to a life of exclusion, marginalisation and disadvantage in every sphere of life.” The Special Rapporteur has continued to highlight the situation of Dalit women who face multiple forms of violence and raise concerns over the lack of a holistic approach to address caste-based discrimination as a cause and consequence of violence against women. Moreover, other Special Procedures mandates, Treaty Bodies and the UPR Working Group have increasingly raised concerns and made multiple observations and recommendations to governments and other stakeholder, specifically on violence against women with a low caste status. Furthermore, the High Commissioner has repeatedly called for action by governments and world leaders to address the issue, for example in connection with the global response to crimes of sexual violence in India.

IDSN notes with great concern that continued and escalating levels of violence targeted against Dalit women followed by pervasive impunity continue to hamper the efforts to promote and protect the human rights of women. The majority of women and girls from caste-affected communities in South Asia face multiple forms of violence, which includes sexual violence, forced labour and slavery, trafficking, abduction and physical and verbal abuse.

The multiple forms of violence and discrimination against Dalit women compounded by the intersection of gender and caste are also used as a social mechanism to maintain these women’s subordinate position in society. It often occurs in response to women of “low caste status” asserting their economic rights and challenging caste-class relations by demanding their right to wages or land. 

Women from these communities are specifically exposed to a disproportionately higher rate of sexual assaults, including gang-rapes, mainly committed by men of dominant caste groups. For example, whereas the conviction rate for rapes against women in India is around 25%, it is only 2% for women of caste-affected communities (Times of India, July 2011). Sanctioned impunity on behalf of the offenders is a key problem. Police personnel often neglect or deny the Dalit women of their right to seek legal and judicial aid. In many cases, the judiciary fails to enforce the laws that protect Dalit women from discrimination. Moreover, Dalit women are often unregistered citizens, or lack identification cards which contributes to a culture of normalization of violence against women

IDSN therefore calls for a renewed level of focus on and commitment to the issue of violence against Dalit women. This, with the intention of curbing acts of violence and promoting leadership. IDSN specifically calls for a status report on the situation of Violence against Dalit Women in South Asia and a UN led or initiated campaign.

At a June 2014 side-event at the 26th session of the Human Rights Council on Caste-based violence against women, the issue was raised and top UN officials indeed called for a coherent and coordinated approach from the UN and other stakeholders in tackling caste-based violence. The High Commissioner noted that, “Violence against women of poorly regarded castes has very deep roots, which cannot be tackled without far-reaching efforts…Our outrage is not enough. We must take real and focused action to mend our societies.” UN Women Policy Director emphasised that the UN has an important role to play and must step up to the plate to help stop caste-based violence against women. Furthermore, UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues recommended that the Special Rapporteurs work together to address the cross-cutting issue of caste-based violence and discrimination.

IDSN has called for such collaboration to include placing the issue on the next Special Procedures Annual Meeting in June 2015 and moving towards a more structured mechanism against caste-based discrimination.

Related recent news:

Dalit women fight for their rights with marches and mass events in Nepal and India (IDSN News December 2014)

Hundreds of Dalit women gather at conference in Nepal (IDSN News December 2014)

UN: Plight of Dalit women highlighted by the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women (IDSN News May 2014)