Take Action to Improve Conditions for Dalit Women- UN Special Rapporteur #Vaw #Womenrights

Women and Girls Facing Caste-Based Discrimination Need Special Protections
JUNE 7, 2013
  • Many [Dalit women] experience some of the worst forms of discrimination. The reality of Dalit women and girls is one of exclusion and marginalization, which perpetuates their subordinate position in society and increases their vulnerability, throughout generations.
Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women

(Geneva) – United Nations member states should focus urgent attention and decisive action to improve conditions for Dalit women, four international nongovernmental organizations said today. The combination of caste and gender makes millions of Dalit women extremely vulnerable to discrimination and violence, including rape, forced prostitution, and modern forms of slavery.

“Many [Dalit women] experience some of the worst forms of discrimination,” said Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, in a written statement. “The reality of Dalit women and girls is one of exclusion and marginalization, which perpetuates their subordinate position in society and increases their vulnerability, throughout generations.”

Following a side event on June 4, 2013, at the UN Human Rights Council on multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence against Dalit women and women from similarly affected communities, IMADR, Human Rights Watch, Minority Rights Group International, and the International Dalit Solidarity Network called on UN member states to support efforts to eliminate gender and caste-based discrimination. The multiple forms of discrimination and violence against Dalit women have mostly been neglected until now, but some UN human rights bodies, including Special Rapporteurs and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, have begun to pay attention to this serious human rights issue.

Dalit women leaders from four caste-affected countries in South Asia took part in the side event and made strong appeals to the international community as well as their own governments to address discrimination. This was the first time that a UN event focused exclusively on the situation of Dalit women, whose courageous struggle for human rights has come a long way over the past decade.

Addressing the event in a written statement, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, reiterated her “fullest commitment in contributing to the eradication of caste discrimination and untouchability and the correlated deeply rooted exclusion, exploitation and marginalization of Dalit women and other affected groups” through the work of her office.

Pillay, who has spoken out strongly against caste discrimination on a number of occasions, also called on UN member states to “take on the challenge of addressing caste-based discrimination and the human rights violations flowing from this seriously and by mobilizing all of their relevant institutions to this end.”

The ambassador from the German UN Mission, Hanns Heinrich Schumacher, said he had been “shocked” when gathering information about the situation of Dalit women and came to realize the “urgency, the dimension of the problem.”

The fact that numerous states co-sponsored the event demonstrates the increased international attention to the situation of Dalit women – an interest that now needs to be transformed into concrete action by the international community as well as caste-affected countries.

One such country is India, home to almost 100 million Dalit women. Although there are laws in place to protect them, implementation remains an obstacle.
“New laws are useless unless they are implemented, as we have seen with previous efforts to ensure protection of Dalit rights,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

Many of the speakers noted that the lack of implementation of legislation that is meant to protect Dalits is a key problem. Manjula Pradeep, director of the Indian Dalit rights NGO, Navsarjan Trust, stressed the importance of more data about the situation of Dalits and said that, “It is time to look at the intersection of caste and gender.”

Many victims of the combination of caste and gender-based discrimination live in South Asia where they are known as Dalits. Similar forms of discrimination occur elsewhere as testified by Mariem Salem, a parliamentarian from Mauritania and herself a member of a group targeted for discrimination, the Haratines, who are descendants of former slaves.

Salem noted that the pervading social attitudes and perceptions which stigmatize Haratine in general are “a key challenge for Haratine women.” She added that “specific types of work continue to be assigned to them on the basis of their hierarchical status,” a description that could also have been applied to Dalit women in South Asia.


Placing human rights and development at the centre of globalization

United Nations Human Rights Council logo.

United Nations Human Rights Council logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since the inception of overseas development assistance almost 50 years ago, donor countries have given some two trillion US Dollars in aid. Yet, at the height of the global financial and economic crises, 18 trillion US Dollars had been found globally to bail out banks and other financial institutions, according to the UN Millennium Campaign.

A child vendor, in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, selling bread, 26 December 2011 © OHCHR/ Mohamed KheirIn a letter addressed to the President of the 13th quadrennial session of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the UN Human Rights Chief, Navi Pillay, said that human rights, including the right to development, can help fortify and reinforce the theme of development-centred globalization.

The meeting, which took place this month in Doha, Qatar, focused its discussions on the theme: “Development Centred Globalization: Towards Inclusive and Sustainable Growth and Development”.

The report by the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Supachai Panitchpakdi, noted that globalization had been driven by speculative finance, which had established the world economy but also damaged development in developing countries. The document advocated for the start of a new era of development-led globalisation in which the state had to resume its leading role in development, with a North-South deal based on taming the financial sector; turning trade and investment towards development; managing new threats; and more democratic governance of the world economy.

While human rights experts agree that globalization must be development-centred, they also insist that development must go beyond economic growth and be founded on universally agreed human rights standards, including the right to development and rights based approaches to development.

“The process of development itself must be unlocked from the confines of an overly narrow focus on economic growth. The global economic, financial and climate crises have revealed that to reach truly inclusive and sustainable growth, we must also ensure a human face to both development and globalization,” Pillay said. “Human rights can guide our collective responses to contemporary challenges, including globalization and the global crises which have emerged in recent years.”

Participation, transparency and accountability can ensure more inclusive, more sustainable and more efficient development. Furthermore, non-discriminatory development is more equitable, and the empowerment of women, minorities and marginalized communities yields vastly more development dividend.

“Development will be inclusive and sustainable only when those who tend to be excluded have full participation in development. We must give a voice and allow for policy space for the concerns of poor, vulnerable and marginalized individuals and groups,” the High Commissioner said.

“The human rights framework, in particular, the 1986 UN Declaration on the Right to Development, presents a development paradigm aimed at the improved well-being of all people, including through free, active and meaningful participation in development; equitable distribution of the benefits of development locally and globally; and promoting an equitable international order in which all human rights can be realized,” the High Commissioner added. “Shared responsibilities, human rights-based policy coherence and systemic integration, in my view, can further strengthen the global partnership for development.”

At the meeting, several state leaders echoed Pillay’s concern for people-centred growth and development. The civil society declaration called for “a new global social contract, based on universal human rights and on social and environmental justice” and for UNCTAD to “find constructive ways to effectively mainstream human rights – especially the right to development- in its work.”

The outcome documents – Doha Mandate and Doha Manar – acknowledged human development needs and human rights, including the right to development.


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