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Ending Sexual Violence in South Asia

What is the problem? 

Women and girls across South Asia face high rates of sexual violence. Protection gaps in rape laws and barriers to accessing justice continue to lead to effective denial of justice for many survivors of sexual violence. 

Survivors of sexual violence from socially excluded communities face specific barriers to accessing justice based on their caste, tribal, ethnic, or religious identities in addition to gender-based discrimination. 

“I often wonder if my life would be different if I was a Bangali woman, not a marginalized Adivasi woman. I see young people from my community being rejected from jobs just because of their identity, our women and girls are raped every day and the culprits walk around with impunity.”

Prabha, Bangladesh

For example, in India, Dalit women face intersecting barriers to justice. Our 2020 report, Justice Denied: Sexual Violence & Intersectional Discrimination – Barriers to Accessing Justice for Dalit Women and Girls in Haryana, India, jointly authored with Swabhiman Society, found a culture of violence, silence, and impunity was perpetuating caste-based sexual violence and denying Dalit survivors access to justice. 

What do the laws in South Asia say about sexual violence? 

Our 2021 report, Sexual Violence in South Asia: Legal and Other Barriers to Justice for Survivors, jointly authored with Dignity Alliance International, found that rape laws across the six South Asian countries studied effectively deny justice to survivors of sexual violence due to protection gaps in the laws particularly:

  • Limited definitions of sexual violence
  • Failure to criminalize marital rape in all circumstances: Only Bhutan and Nepal of the six countries criminalize marital rape in all circumstances.
  • Discriminatory or overly burdensome evidence requirements; For instance, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, and Sri Lanka all permit the introduction of evidence of the past sexual history of the rape victim.

In addition to the gaps in the law, the report uncovered severe barriers to accessing justice and implementation gaps within the criminal justice system. 

While India and Nepal have passed specific laws aimed at preventing and redressing discrimination against certain socially excluded communities, more work is needed across the region to address this intersectional discrimination. 

Explore the full report, Sexual Violence in South Asia: Legal and Other Barriers to Justice for Survivors.

What is Equality Now doing to address sexual violence in South Asia? 

Following the release of Sexual Violence in South Asia: Legal and Other Barriers to Justice for Survivors, we are continuing to work with partners across the region, particularly in the Maldives and Nepal, to call on governments to take urgent action to address sexual violence and improve access to justice for survivors.

We’re calling for comprehensive action from governments to holistically address sexual violence and intersecting discrimination faced by women and girls across the region to live up to their commitments to protect and promote the human rights of women and girls. Specifically, the governments of the six South Asian countries must: 

  • address protection gaps in the law 
  • improve police responses to cases of sexual violence
  • ensure survivor-friendly medical examinations in rape cases
  • improve prosecution procedures and trials of sexual offenses
  • design and fund holistic interventions to improve access to justice for survivors

In India, we’re working with partners more closely to address the intersecting barriers to justice faced by survivors of sexual violence from marginalized communities. 

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