8th March 2013

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 8th March 2013.

This year, the UN theme for International Women’s Day is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”, one that is unfortunately relevant to South Asia.

Global campaigns such as 16 days of activism and One Billion Rising are positive signs of an increasingly proactive approach from men and women, to stop violence against women. However, while SAHR acknowledges that there continues to be a shift in the attitude of many South Asian societies with regards to women’s equality and emancipation, still injustice, discrimination, and violence persist in the most terrible of forms.

Over the past year alone, acts of violence against women have captured the World’s attention; The attempted killing of a 15 year old women’s rights activist in Pakistan; The brutal gang rape and subsequent death of a student in Delhi; The recent ruling in the Maldives where a teenager was sentenced to 100 lashes, despite being the victim of rape; The execution of a Sri Lankan housemaid working in Saudi Arabia, after being held on death row for six years; The assassinations of two directors of the Department of Women’s Affairs in Laghman province, Afghanistan, for their work on women’s issues. These are just a few examples, and while the attention that these tragedies have received in the media and among the public are vital to redressing the wrongs that plague women in South Asia, firm action needs to be taken by South Asian societies and those that govern them.

Violence against women is rooted in the traditional roles and attitudes that prevail in much of South Asia, and compounded by growing religious fundamentalism and extremism. Increased awareness and promotion of their rights will go some distance in rectifying this. Violence against women often goes unpunished due to the victim’s fear of coming forward, lack of adequate and appropriate practices by law enforcement to prevent and redress such violence, and a lack of implementation on laws that punish violence.

Preventing and punishing violence against women is important, but equally important is their empowerment and continued efforts to ensure their equality in all aspects of life. Equal access to education and healthcare, equal opportunities and pay for employment, and equal protection in the eyes of the law, are all vital steps that need to be taken in all of the countries.

While highlighting the work that is yet to be done on women’s rights, SAHR also emphasises the need to remember and laud the dedication of female human rights defenders in South Asia and worldwide. It is because of their persistent efforts and bravery that women throughout South Asia are challenging discriminatory practices that subordinate them and are speaking up for the rights of women, within families, the community and the State.

Thus we urge everyone, particularly those in positions of power, to make a commitment towards protecting the rights of women and to provide them with an enabling and safe environment, which is needed and deserved for women to achieve their full potential. On this International Women’s Day let us pledge our renewed determination to work towards the promise to take action, and end violence against women.

On behalf of South Asians for Human Rights,

Hina Jilani                                                                                                            Dr. Nimalka Fernando
Chair                                                                                                                     Co-Chair