We must work with our colleagues to create and accelerate change in our own, and in their, communitiesby Frances D'Souza / December 11, 2015 / Leave a comment
Earlier this year, a woman was beaten to death in Afghanistan as a result of a false allegation that she had burnt pages of the Qur’an. In October, a video surfaced showing a woman being stoned to death for adultery after she had attempted to escape a forced marriage in Ghor Province. So brutal were these incidents that even Afghanistan, despite the pervasive violence against women, was shocked.
Meanwhile in Pakistan, the treatment of women was just as bad. Political parties in some of the more conservative provinces struck a deal barring women from voting in local elections in May this year, and a court threw out a petition contesting the results. The leading Pakistani women’s rights activist, Sabeen Mahmud, was murdered in April, and numerous honour killings have chilled the world. The Storyville documentary India’s Daughter drew the international attention to endemic sexual violence and the trafficking of girls in India.
There is widespread recognition that women in South Asian societies struggle to achieve their basic rights, despite slow improvement in some areas such as maternal mortality. Indeed a 2011 global survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation identified Afghanistan as the worst country in which to be a woman with Pakistan and India coming third and fourth respectively.
Despite the savage challenges faced by women in the sub-continent, there is some progress. Examples include the work of DfID-funded Project Aitebaar in Pakistan, which works to improve women’s access to justice by making police stations more approachable, improving the visibility of policewomen and pioneering a victim support service. In Afghanistan, Marie Stopes International has made headway persuading imams to distribute condoms in defiance of Taliban bans, averting an estimated 1,646 unintended pregnancies in 2014. Last month, teacher Aqeela Asifi won the Nansen Refugee Award for her pioneering school for young, female Afghan refugees in Pakistan, a project that has now won Pakistani government funding. And earlier this year, an Afghan woman completed the first ever Afghan marathon, resolute in the face of stigma and ridicule.
These examples highlight the diversity of projects that help to empower women’s participation in all areas of life in South Asia. From civil society and non-governmental agencies to local government and the public sector, to the female micro-…