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Shattering the silence: IDRC-Zubaan research speaks out on sexual violence against women

June 14, 2016

The silence surrounding sexual violence in South Asia has been shattered. The Zubaan Series on Sexual Violence and Impunity in South Asia, formally launched in New Delhi on May 21, 2016, presents severe statements about criminal justice systems in South Asia that turn their back on sexual violence, leaving survivors little recourse for justice.

The eight-book series is the result of research conducted by more than 50 scholars from five countries (Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) who were involved in the three-year IDRC-supported project. The evidence, arguments, testimonies, and opinions presented in the series create a dependable body of evidence focussed on survivors and society’s role in addressing sexual violence. “Advocacy for policy change requires evidence and research, which these books and their content provide,” says IDRC Asia Regional Director Anindya Chatterjee. “I do hope that policymakers in the region will be able to access and use these experiences and recommendations to formulate policies that are sensitive to women.”

The series attempts to examine the gaps in law, medical practice, state willingness, and social sanction that work against the interests of justice for survivors of sexual violence. “Despite the widespread prevalence of sexual violence in conflicts, wars, and sub-national battles, little has happened in South Asia to hold the perpetrators of violence accountable,” says IDRC’s Navsharan Singh, who led the project.

Many women’s rights advocates blame an overall lack of accountability of the criminal justice system in South Asian countries for rampant sexual violence. “There have been several occasions when the police have told us to drop a sexual violence charge, even as they have been willing to press other criminal charges,” said Farah Naqvi, a social activist and researcher.

IDRC’s commitment to fighting sexual violence

Gender and violence against women have been at the heart of IDRC’s work in South Asia. Majlis Manch, an IDRC-supported NGO, is developing a survivor-centric approach to justice for women who have experienced sexual violence. Based on Majlis’ research, a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for sexual offences was developed and adopted by all 93 police stations in Mumbai, with more than 700 police officers trained under the initiative.

With IDRC support, the NGOs Zubaan in India, Ain O Salish Kendra in Bangladesh, Simorgh in Pakistan, and the Advocacy Forum in Nepal, are leading the campaign against the 35-day limitation period for complaints of rape to the police in Nepal, after which a woman loses her right to appeal for justice. These projects are among the many that are seeking to break the silence over sexual violence against women.

IDRC’s efforts, says Chatterjee, will initiate and accelerate the changes that will make Asian societies just and peaceful. “The surest way of doing this,” he says, “is by breaking the silence on sexual violence, which is just what we are doing.”

The first five installments of the Zubban Series on Sexual Violence and Impunity in South Asia books are now on sale.

The series will also be available online on Amazon/Flipkart and in academic retail spaces through Atlantic Publishers and Distributors. The series is also available for sale in North America through the University of Chicago Press.