South Asia is a region that encompasses the countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan and the Maldives. It is home to more than 1.4 billion people . Most of the countries of this region was under British colonial rule until the first half of the 20th century. Pakistan, Banglaesh, Afghanisthan and Maldives are majority Muslim countries whileI India and Nepal are majority Hindu countries and Bhutan and Sri Lanka are majority Buddhist. There is a great diverisity in this region in terms of languages, ethnicities, religion, etc. India is the only country with a democratically elected government, although Pakistan and Nepal in the last year have had democratically elected governments as well after massive political upheavels in the two countries. Sri Lanka has been experience continued armed civil conflict between the Hindu Tamil minority and the Buddhist Sinhalese majority.
Brief history of the sub-continent with reference to gender justice
India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were a single country until India's independence in 1947 when the independent state of Pakistan came into existence and was divided between West Pakistan (present day Pakistan) and East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh). Extreme violence followed the partition of India and Pakistan during which almost 15 million people were displaced and many died. Thousands of women and girls on both sides of the border were abducted and raped. Some chose to remain in the countries of their abductors since they had already built ties and families in the region (Das 2000 ). Post-1947 there were efforts to 'repatriate' these women to their 'rightful' places. These attempts were largely unsuccessful and led to further victimization of women caught in post-partition trauma.
Following a war between West and East Pakistan, the indpendent country of Bangladesh was created in 1971, with support from the Indian government. Long-standing linguistic, cultural and ethnic differences contributed to frictions between East and West Pakistan. The Mukti Juddho (Freedom War) fought during this period led to wide-spread violence against women including mass-rape and murders (Mookherjee 2008). Women's rights in Afganisthan have been substantially eroded because of the continued presence of the Taliban in the region and an absence of a stable government. At a larger macro level, Sri Lanka and Bhutan appear to have the most gender egalitarian society with women enjoying many customary rights in the areas of access to land, inheritance as well as a very high proportion of participation in the labor force.
The issue of gender equity in South Asia has been challenging, but progress has been made in the last few decades.
- Mookherjee Nayanika 2008 'Gendered Embodiments: Mapping the body-politic of the raped woman and the nation in Bangladesh' in Feminist Review, Special Issue on War. Volume 88: 1, April.
- Das Veena 2000 "Violence and Subjectivity" (co-edited), University of California Press.