SEATTLE — Gender-based violence affects women of all socioeconomic backgrounds. The numbers are particularly staggering, though, in developing countries around the world. In the South Asian countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka gender-based violence is extremely prevalent.
Gender-based violence refers to violence that is committed against women and girls. The numbers are alarming:
Globally, one in three women have experienced gender-based violence, either sexual or physical, in their lifetime. Around 7% of women have been sexually assaulted by someone other than their partner.
More than 38% of the murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.
Nearly 200 million women have experienced female genital mutilation and genital cutting.
Gender-Based Violence in South Asia
Gender-based violence stands as one of the deadliest forms of violence in all of Asia, resulting in the deaths of more people than armed conflicts. In Nepal and Bangladesh, gender-based violence is the leading cause of intentional homicides. In India, more than 40,000 dowry-related deaths were reported between 2011 and 2015. Only four South Asian countries have laws prohibiting domestic violence and few have adequate protections against sexual harassment that occurs outside of the workplace.
Yet physical and sexual violence aren’t the only ways in which gender-based violence affects women and girls in South Asia. Psychological and economic gender-based violence persist. Gender-based discriminatory practices begin before birth as a result of deeply-rooted patriarchal values that lead to structural inequalities. Societal norms prioritize the higher status of men and boys in many South Asian countries. Boys are significantly more likely to receive both basic and higher educations, systematically disadvantaging women and girls. Further, South Asia is home to countries with the highest rates of child marriage in the world. With limited legal protection against child marriage, one in two girls in South Asia are married before the age of 18.
Effects on Health Outcomes
Gender-based violence affects every aspect of the lives of women and girls in South Asian countries. Especially striking are the impacts that gender-based violence has on short-term and long-term health outcomes for women and girls.
Gender-based violence has consequences on the sexual, reproductive, physical and mental well-being of women and girls. Sexual violence can result in injuries, sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy with increased risk of miscarrying. High rates of child marriage have resulted in many women giving birth before the age of 18, with few resources available to support themselves and their children. The region has the second-highest maternal mortality rate in the world. Mental health consequences include depression, substance abuse, anxiety, suicidal behaviors as well as facing stigma often associated with being a victim of gender-based violence.
Addressing the Issue
Health services are vital to the well-being of survivors of gender-based violence in South Asia. Interventions such as emergency contraceptives, treatment for HIV/AIDS and psychological support like counseling can improve health outcomes for countless women and girls. Organizations like UNICEF work to address the issue.
Alongside community partners, UNICEF strengthens the health sectors of countries in South Asia by providing technical assistance and oversight support. UNICEF works to integrate mental health care services with clinical care at the community level to ensure that more women and girls have access to necessary care. The organization also strives to respond to the barriers that women and girls face that fuel gender disparities throughout the region by funding increased educational opportunities for young girls and improving water, health and sanitation services. The impact of UNICEF is evident throughout South Asia:
UNICEF funded the secondary education of 62,000 women in West Bengal, India.
UNICEF granted 32,180 young girls access to Accelerated Learning Programs in Pakistan’s most remote areas.
UNICEF headed a campaign to end child marriage in Nepal.
Though the impact of gender-based violence will persist in South Asian countries in the years to come, organizations like UNICEF working to improve health outcomes for women and girls push South Asia towards a future in which women are mentally, physically and economically empowered- and in which gender-based discrimination is nonexistent. Ideally, these organizations will help the region to achieve a more equal, equitable society for all through the promotion of systemic change.
– Alana Castle