Researchers and practitioners on violence against women (VAW) from all over South Asia gave country presentations and discussed legal structures established and practised in their respective countries on the first day of South Asian Conference on violence against inaugurated here on Thursday.
Organized by Rozan, the conference titled Reclaiming Space From Victimhood to Agency: State and Civil Society Response to Violence against Women intends to provide a learning platform for civil society activists to review their struggle against VAW in the light of the engagement of women s movement.
The participants stressed the need to learn from the experiences of each other and devise a joint strategy to combat different forms of violence against women. They discussed in detail the challenge faced by South Asian countries in the implementation of legislation on domestic violence and why it has failed to provide comprehensive protection to women. An important point highlighted was that Pakistan is the only South Asian country that has yet to pass a law on domestic violence. Rape victim Mukhtaran Mai was the chief guest on the occasion.
Addressing the inaugural session, United Nation s Special Rapporteur on violence against women Rashida Manjoo said that throughout the world, violence against women is pervasive, widespread and unacceptable. Rooted in multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and inequalities, and strongly linked to the social and economic situation of women, violence against women constitutes a continuum of exploitation and abuse.
She called for the need to adopt holistic approach to address the issue of VAW at every level instead of instead of a one-size fits-all approach.
Chief Guest of the inaugural session, Mukharan Mai shared her personal journey from a victim to a survivor and how she has used her own personal hurt to fuel a movement for education for young girls in her area. Emphasising her slogan Zulm Ko Ilm Say Khatm Karo , Mukhtaran, Mukhtaran said that hundreds of children are now studying in three schools, she established in her area. She said that to end violence against women, it is equally important to educate and sensitise men.
Rozan Programme Adviser Dr. Ambreen Ahmed formally introduced the three-day conference by saying that not only are crimes against women at rampage in South Asia, but cultural practices blame women as being the guilty one.
The first session stressed the need for collective struggle as women of South Asia. The session focused on the history of the struggle against violence against women within each country, and looked at the engagement of the women s movement with violence and provided a conceptual base to the discussion around violence involving an analysis of its interface with influencers such as culture, religion, poverty, and conflict.
The first session was addressed by Dr. Hameeda Hosain from Bangladesh, Kamla Bhasin from India, Bandana Rana from Nepal and Subhangi M. K. Herath from Sri Lanka. Eminent women rights activist and researcher in Pakistan Nighat Said Khan lamented the low indicators of women development in Pakistan. She highlighted how women are struggling for their roles in decision making.
The second session focused on the structural changes for bringing changes in VAW. The session reviewed the national legislative frameworks to combat domestic violence, sexual harassment and rape across South Asia with a special focus on experiences around implementation and the challenge it posed. Chief Operation Officer, Aurat Foundation Naeem Mirza chaired the session.
Hina Jilani, women s rights lawyer and Director Dastak, explained that it may be futile to try and uncover root causes as there is no justification for violence and cited several cases where women have been subjected to violence and that violence has been upheld by the courts on ground that that women are somehow to blame.
Talking in the session, Member of Constituent Assembly in Nepal Sapana Pradhan Malla underlined the need for legislative measures in combating the crime and Paroma Ray from India and Shyamala Gomez from Sri Lanka presented their papers on the legislative measures in their respective countries.