The Dalits, a caste of around 260 million people in South Asia (accounting for roughly 1/4 of India’s population), are facing systemic and structural discrimination in the region due to their inferior social status. The Dalits are perceived as “untouchable”/inferior beings therefore are subjected to a life of poverty and discrimination by the higher-ranking castes. Women are especially discriminated against, even within their own caste, as there are defined as intrinsically impure beings. Dalit women are forced to perform the most degrading jobs, denied access to education and are subjected to violence, including the “Devadasi system” of forced and ritualized prostitution. Dalit women are basically stripped of all their basic human rights, having no recourse against the men perpetuating these abuses and inequalities.
Despite the intense gendered based caste discrimination, the Dalit women have collectively participated in resistance movements trying to change this unfair system and have been actively appealing for help from the international community. Several international treaties (ICCPR, ICESCR, ICERD and CEDAW) could be used in international bodies to persuade the South Asian governments to pass and enforce laws that protect Dalit women’s human rights and offer them equal rights with men. Furthermore, 180 countries accepted the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and the removal of social inequalities (i.e. reduce poverty, offer access to education, ensure gender equality etc.) impacting Dalit women (which account for 2% of the world population) represents a necessary step towards the realization of these goals.
The discrimination against Dalit women is an issue that has been brought in front of international bodies as early as 1995, culminating with the drafting of the Hague Declaration on the Human Rights and Dignity of Dalit Women which occurred at the Hague Conference on Dalit Women's Rights, in November 2006. The Hague conference also resulted in several recommendations being made to the governments of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to correct the injustices made towards Dalits. These measures were meant to counter the widespread discrimination and violence against Dalit women, not only by pressuring governments to pass the appropriate laws, but also making sure that these governments take all necessary measures to enforce the rules and protect the Dalit women’s basic human rights. There rights range from parliamentary representation, property rights, antidiscrimination, anti-violence rules, right to education and equal protection under the law. The goal of the Hague Conference was to involve international bodies (such as the UN, EU and other multi-national NGOs) to build support for Dalit women to achieve these basic rights by 2015. This was viewed as a necessary step in order to achieve the targets of the MDG and close the wide social gap for this discriminated group. Read more: