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[Event] Human Rights Now invited female activists fighting against violations of women's human rights and held a sympusium

16 May 2009


Asian Activist-a 2009

Women Changing the World
Challenge on Violence against Women in India

Human Rights Now (HRN) supports and calls female activists as 'Activist-a', who are engaged in activities to shed light on and overcome ongoing grave violations of women's human rights in Asia.
HRN invited Ms. Nandini Rao, an Activist-a courageously fighting against domestic violence in India where domestic violence has spread severely, and held a symposium 'Asian Activist-a 2009 Women Changing the World' in Tokyo on 16th May and in Osaka on 17th May. This is a report of the symposium in Tokyo.

Date: 16th May 2009
Location: Aoyama Campus, Aoyama Gakuin University
Ms. Nandini Rao, a coordinator of JAGORI, Indian women's NGO
Ms. Yoko Hayashi, an attorney at law and a member of Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
Ms. Asako Osaki, an expert in gender and development policy
Ms. Kazuko Ito, an attorney at law and a Secretary General of Human Rights Now

Ms. Nandini Rao:
is a coordinator of JAGORI, an India NGO, which means awakening women. Violence against women such as domestic violence has been a serious problem in India. For example, some women have been burnt to death by their husbands due to lack of dowry, money for marriage, which is known as dowry death. JAGORI has been working on ending violence against women and had played a crucial role to enact a progressive anti-domestic violence law in 2005.

Violence against women in India has been a result of various factors such as communal violence, religious violence in society, violence against the minority by the majority, and violence caused by religious antagonism. Women have been dually discriminated by caste and gender. In addition, there has been violence due to recent neo-liberal economic policies, which has been a major problem against women. There are a number of women who hesitate to bear girls since social status of women is considered to be low. Statistics also shows that discrimination and violence against women has been deeply rooted.
Anti-domestic violence law enacted in 2005 covers physical, mental and economic violence against women comprehensively and guarantees women's rights to live in security and dignity. Anti-domestic violence law stipulates that the government has responsibility to ensure women's rights to live in security and this law is a great tool which women's movement has obtained in India.
From an international point of view, the current situation in India is far from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in terms of correction and reduction of sexual discrimination and poverty. However, JAGORI does not have a pessimistic view about the situation of women's movement but has a very positive one. Recently, there has been an increase in the number of independent women's groups, which have no association with political parties. More women's voices have been heard in society. There has been a great advance in women's presence in economic sphere and more girls have had learning opportunities. They are all achievements of women's movement.
Women's movement has conducted their campaigns in various ways. JAGORI, which has marked the 25th anniversary of its establishment, has appealed for women's rights in creative ways as well as in print campaign. Ms. Rao talked to various people from Japanese organizations about an issue about how men can get involved in women's movement. At the individual level, men's participation in childcare is important, nevertheless, it is very hard for Indian men who consider household chores and childcare as women's work to take part in childcare. JAGORI is in the process of trial and error to improve men's awareness as regards gender equality.
At the village and local community levels, men's participation in women's movement is desirable. Men should accept that in the local community, sisters, mothers, wives and women in the neighbourhood fight against violence against women. There has been a significant rise in the number of men's organizations which deal with violence against women recently.
The greatest challenge JAGORI has faced is conventional prejudice against women. The perception is deeply rooted in tradition and it is not easy to change it.
In order to achieve equality in society, it is inevitable to talk about gender equality. The change has to be recognized as positive one for both men and women and JAGORI has been getting the message out to the public. In future, JAGORI is going to increase women's participation and to raise awareness of women's rights in society.

Ms. Ito, Secretary General of Human Rights Now and a facilitator of this discussion, said in the beginning 'While the present situation in India is shocking, there are a lot to learn from very active women's movement in India.' She also introduced a project of HRN about violence against women and announced the completion of the report of the HRN fact finding mission in India for September 2008.

Ms. Yoko Hayashi, a member of Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, outlined the ratification progress of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, which marked the 30th anniversary, and the history of international efforts for elimination of violence against women. She also mentioned an issue of complex discrimination which women with difficulties such as status of immigrant workers and refugees, diseases, poverty and so forth. There are more barriers for those women to restore their rights than ones for women with little difficulty. She pointed out it is necessary to provide special treatment for those women, depending on demands of each woman, rather than perfunctorily equal treatment for all women.
She noted that under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, states have responsibility to prevent and investigate violence against women, and prosecute and punish those responsible, and make reparation for victims of the violence. In Japan, it is difficult for women to raise voices in protest especially when they suffer violence from men close to them. Measures to support those women are still insufficient. This is not just a problem for Japan but also ones for many states in the world.
She also raised an issue about to what extent women can unite together just because they are women, in spite of difference in context in which they live, highlighted in the problem of complex discrimination.

Ms. Osaki pointed out that the goal of development is that all men and women in the world can live their lives in a humane manner and, development and human rights are inseparable and thus development has to be based on the principles of human rights. There are various factors of violence against women such as power relationship between men and women, social convention, economic imbalances, delays in legislation, insufficient women's participation and so forth. Moreover, she analysed violence against women in the perspective of development cost, commenting that violence against women is not unacceptable from the viewpoint of human rights violations but also should not be overlooked in terms of social costs such as influence upon female victims and care costs for those victims, socio-economic costs, and costs as barrier to accomplish the MDGs.
In respect of Japanese development assistance policies, she indicated that it is a duty of Japan as a donor state to enhance awareness of those costs, to mainstream gender perspective comprehensively in ODA policies, budget allocation and implementation of the projects, and take more measures against violence against women.

More issues were also widely discussed such as problems of Japan's ODA policies, the enforcement status of India's anti-domestic violence law, economic recession, and influence of globalisation.
In closing, Ms. Rao gave a strong message that "we need to keep on appealing, at any time and any place, regardless of difference in women's positions in society, that the attitude to diminish value of women is never acceptable. We women need to unite together beyond all differences."

On the 14th of May 2009, prior to the symposium, Ms. Rao participated as a speaker in the 16th study session about violence against women and international cooperation held by the female parliamentary group on development headed by President Chieko Minamino, a member of the House of Councillors and the Liberal Democratic Party, and Secretary General Yoko Komiyama, a member of the House of Representatives and the Democratic Party of Japan. She held talks with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and received newspaper and magazine coverage.