February 27, 2014

Throughout South and East Asian countries  women continue to be subjected to unrestrained discrimination and  violence. This includes verbal offences and intimidation, harassment,  rape and 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 for 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 offence,  whether it is rape, domestic violence, 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 discriminate against women as inferior citizens and  minimise the gravity of the offences 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. With regards to women, it heavily replicates those  patterns of gender inequality, patriarchal mindsets and structural  violence that pervade the 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 which  derives from society and which results in the largely condoned  demeaning and abusive attitudes towards girls and women. Structural  violence infiltrates state agencies which 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 which  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 socio-cultural norms, would  ensure greater protection and equal assistance. Having more police  women 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 polices 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 needs of 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