South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, joins the messages of solidarity expressed throughout the world to mark International Women’s Day on March 8th, 2012.

This year, International Women’s Day is inspired by the theme of “Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty”. While this is a day for solidarity among women and a celebration of their accomplishments, it is also a day to remind the world that equal rights and opportunities for women are human rights imperatives and inalienable rights of women.

SAHR believes that there has been a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women’s and society’s thoughts on women’s equality and emancipation and notes that many achievements have been made, to date, towards equal rights for women. However the unfortunate fact is that injustice and discrimination against women still persists around the world and in its worst form it manifests as violence. Even though equal opportunity for employment has been improving throughout the world, women are not always paid equally compared to their male counterparts and are not proportionally represented in business or politics. Globally, women’s access to education, health and protection against violence is worse than that of men.

Gender inequality still persists in education in the South Asian region. Also, maternal mortality remains unacceptably high with too many women still lacking access to basic health care.

Apart from gender inequality, South Asian women are also heavily affected by religious fundamentalist ideology and extremism in the region. Violence against women is also common in the region, aided by cultural biases against women which continue to flourish across varying class, caste and ethnic groups.

Furthermore, women continue to bear the greatest burdens when dealing with poverty, which is widespread in the region. Simultaneously, domestic violence, rape, demands for dowry, sexual harassment in the workplace and other forms of sexual violence are widely prevalent. South Asia is also tarnished with the prevalence of sex trafficking of girls and women.

While highlighting the work that is yet to be done on women’s rights, it is also important to remember and applaud the dedication of women’s rights advocates in South Asia and worldwide.  Due to their persistent efforts, women of different communities in all our countries are challenging discriminatory practices that subordinate them and are speaking up for their rights within their families, the community and the State.

The state of women’s rights in South Asia presents a challenge for all of us, governments, civil society as well as the international community. Thus we urge everyone, particularly those in positions of power, to make a commitment towards protecting the rights of women and to provide women with an enabling environment with ‘equal access to education, training and science and technology’ that will be a ‘pathway to decent work for women’, which is needed and deserved if women are to achieve their full potential.

On behalf of South Asians for Human Rights,

Hina Jilani                                                                                                 Nimalka Fernando
Chairperson                                                                                                   Co-Chairperson