Violence, particularly against women, is an uncomfortable topic. And yet, it has become an increasingly talked about issue in Australia. Rightfully so.
Current statistics indicate that one in three women over the age of 15 has been a victim of physical or sexual violence by someone they know, and almost once a week, a woman dies at the hands of a current or previous partner.* While Australians believe that violence against women is wrong, the tendency to minimise disrespectful behaviours with sayings like: “boys will be boys”, or to blame victims with statements like: “it takes two to tango”, is part of the problem.* And while domestic violence is the most obvious form of violence affecting women in Australia, it is not the only form that violence takes.
Human trafficking, inequality, and violations of women’s rights are all forms of violence. It is true that girls and women living in developing countries can often experience such forms of violence more frequently, but Australian women still face inequality; the root cause of these issues. Between 2007-2012, for example, a quarter of Australian women experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.* Women continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles in both the public and private sectors, but are overrepresented in low-paid industries as part-time workers.* And though it may come as no surprise that human trafficking is far too common in the developing world, Australia is not completely free from its grasp.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Australia is a destination country for human trafficking with victims arriving predominantly from Asian countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, Korea, and Malaysia.** Lured by the promise of work, victims might not realise they have been deceived and are being exploited until they reach Australian shores.
If traffickers can sneak victims into an isolated island nation like Australia, then the amount of trafficked people within the same continent or even the same country is bound to be rampant. In fact, the majority of victims are trafficked domestically or within a subregion, and one in three victims are trafficked within their own country.**
1 in 3 victims are trafficked within their own country
Human trafficking targets the vulnerable. Women and children, particularly those in poverty, are common targets. UNODC estimates that 70% of trafficking victims are female, and the number of child victims is increasing. Nowadays, nearly one third of detected trafficking victims worldwide are children.**
As for subregional trafficking, India and Nepal are particularly affected. It is reported that 7,000 young women and girls are trafficked out of Nepal and into India every year.***** But the problem of trafficking isn’t the only issue affecting these two Asian countries.
7,000 girls and women are trafficked from Nepal to India every year
In Nepal, considerable steps have been taken to overcome gender inequality: women can now transfer citizenship to their children; unmarried daughters have the same right to inherit launch as sons do (without having to be over 35 years old as the previous law required); females are employed almost as often as males; women can legally divorce their husband on the grounds of rape; and a woman’s inability to bear children is no longer grounds for divorce. These legislative changes have been a wonderful step forward in improving the rights of women in Nepal. But the 2007 Interim Constitution, along with other policies, allow legislative loopholes, and long-standing biases are hard to disregard overnight. So while women have been granted equal inheritance rights, this only applies while a woman is unmarried. Despite having the opportunity to work, women’s wages are significantly lower than their male counterparts. And a man’s word is still held in higher regard than a woman’s, making it difficult for women to win legal cases.***
Similar issues are plaguing India. A major concern there is the decline in the sex ratio of children under the age of 7: in 2001 statistics indicated that there were 927 girls for every 1000 boys in India, but by 2011 the ration was a lower 914 girls for every 1000 boys.**** Infant mortality rates are also higher for girls in almost all states and territories of India. Part of the problem is believed to be caused by discriminatory practices in families and the wider society. Common practices such as underage marriage and domestic violence against women remain a large issue with gaining gender parity. And surprisingly, there is a high tolerance for such violence, with more than half of men and women excusing a man for beating his wife, highlighting the importance of raising awareness of women’s rights among both genders.****
Asian Aid supporters are doing something to address the issue of gender inequality – the root cause of violence – in India and in Nepal.
Rupa and Chitra Acharya are a married couple working as Model Couple Campaigners (MCC), through an Asian Aid funded program, in a community in Western Nepal. This unique program addresses many of the deeply rooted and harmful traditional practices within their community.
There is high level of gender and caste-based discrimination in their district – untouchability, child marriage and domestic violence are highly prevalent. Early marriage is one of the causes of a persistently high maternal mortality rate – with 12% of girls marrying before they are 15 years old, and 79% of girls marrying before they turn 19.
As MCCs, Rupa and Chitra were initially faced with challenges. “It was very difficult for us to go against these practices as our family and the community stood opposed to our work,” they say. But over time, the couple noticed significant changes amongst community members. “At first we were shy and afraid of speaking to our family about women’s health issues, but now we can speak about women’s issues openly,” says Rupa.
In April of this year, they learned about a child marriage between two 16 year olds. Both children had dropped out of school due to poverty. Rupa and Chitra went to the boy’s house and arranged a meeting with the girl’s family. In the discussion, the pair explained the consequences of child marriage and the punishments for child marriage offenders. They also provided separate counselling to the boy and the girl, and motivated them to complete their education and marry at the legal age of 20.
After long discussions and many objections, it was agreed that the children would live with their family and would marry each other after reaching the legal age of 20 years. Rupa’s and Chitra’s intervention was possible only because of their connections in the community.
What is Asian Aid doing to help?
India and Nepal are two of the main countries where Asian Aid supports life-saving work like what Rupa and Chitra do. Asian Aid’s Advocacy Program helps prevent human trafficking while fighting for gender equality. Enabling girls to stay in school for longer, providing opportunities for women to learn vocational skills so that they can sustain themselves and their families, and raising awareness among boys and men against violence, trafficking, early marriage and child labour help grow girls and women strong for life.
The root of all violence, no matter its form, begins with inequality.* Challenge inequality in Australia through your beliefs, your actions and your words, and give hope to girls and women in India and Nepal through supporting Asian Aid’s work.
Violence should not exist.
You can help end violence by supporting our Advocacy program.
Donations of $2 and over are tax deductible in Australia.
**https://www.afp.gov.au/what-we-do/crime-types/human-trafficking and **http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/glotip/GLOTIP_2014_full_report.pdf