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February 27, 2014

Throughout South and East Asian countries, women continue to be subjected to unrestrained discrimination and violence. This includes verbal offenses and intimidation, harassment, rape, sexual abuse, beating, and torture, and ill-treatment, perpetrated by police officers, soldiers, members of security forces, and other state actors.

A shared aspect among Asian countries is the limited safety and security of women. Throughout South and Southeast Asia torture in custody and detention is rampant. It is a widespread practice of abuse of power perpetrated in an official capacity and mainly aimed at extorting confessions. Imprisoned women and women temporarily in custody for interrogation are more exposed than men to the risk of being tortured by means of sexual abuse by prison and police personnel, who are men in the great majority. Both the abuse they commit and the impunity they enjoy are sanctioned by their government. 

Violence against women is also an alarming component of the complaints registration system. Women who intend to report an offense, whether it is rape, domestic violence, or verbal or physical assault, are very unlikely to find meaningful assistance (many times they are even forced to withdraw their complaints), or they are often laughed at by police staff that discriminates against women as inferior citizens and minimize the gravity of the offenses committed against them. It is not rare that women who go to a police station to file a complaint are not only denied professional assistance but are even further harassed by police agents who may abuse them verbally and physically and who therefore exacerbate the violence committed in the first place.

The civilian policing system throughout the continent appears dysfunctional. In regard to women, it heavily replicates those patterns of gender inequality, patriarchal mindsets, and structural violence that pervade Asian societies. The problem, therefore, goes beyond the limited capacity of guaranteeing basic discipline and professionalism within law enforcement agencies. Besides the lack of concern about possible disciplinary actions due to misbehavior, what fosters violence is primarily the gender-based discrimination that derives from society and which results in the largely condoned demeaning and abusive attitudes towards girls and women. Structural violence infiltrates state agencies that become responsible for institutionalized abuses, to then reflect back to society and nourish the circle of violence where women are one of the sectors suffering the most. The cast categorization of society typical of the subcontinent, together with poverty and low-social status featuring a large portion of the population in South and East Asia, represent added factors that further expose women to the risk of violence and the denial of protection.

The necessary reform of the policing systems in many Asian countries needs to be comprehensive and include higher gender sensitization. A policy of gender integration, which would see more female police personnel “on board”, may help in decreasing risks for both women who are convicted or interrogated, and women who want to report abuse. However, instances of women police officers who participate with their male colleagues in harassment and violence suggest that police reform should also adopt a more holistic strategy of gender mainstreaming.

Integrating gender perspectives in conducts, policies, guidelines, and structures at all levels, and understanding in particular women's constraints and disadvantages related to sociocultural norms, would ensure greater protection and equal assistance. Having more policewomen is desirable, however, insufficient to guarantee fairness and to make sure that violence against women perpetrated by state agents will be eradicated. Besides, the hiring of more women into police and army forces would be a direct consequence of national policies and societal propensity towards equal opportunities and balanced access to resources shared among the population. Gender mainstreaming, therefore, may become one of the valid strategies to meet the need for effective police reforms within the regional context.

In the majority of Asian countries, States have failed to prevent abuses on a large scale, protect women who have been victims of violence, and bring perpetrators to justice, whether they are offenders from the private sphere, the profit sector, civil society, or government bodies. Addressing the complex problem of rape and other forms of violence against women requires legal reforms, but especially a sustained commitment by the authorities aimed at ensuring that the criminal justice system responds effectively and at all levels.


This report was submitted to the UN Human Rights Council by the Asian Legal Resource Centre. The Asian Legal Resource Centre is an independent  regional non-governmental organization holding general consultative  status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It  is the sister organization of the Asian Human Rights Commission. The Hong Kong-based group seeks to strengthen and encourage positive action on legal and human rights issues at the local and national levels throughout Asia

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