Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

3 ways to improve the response to gender-based violence within South Asian communities

Girls shout slogans during a protest demanding equal rights for women on the occasion of International Women’s Day in New Delhi, India, March 8, 2018. Caption: Tackling gender-based violence is a key objective of Sustainable Development Goal 5.

Tackling gender-based violence is a key objective of Sustainable Development Goal 5. Image: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Rida Tahir
Barrister-at-law and an Advocate of the High Courts of Pakistan, Global Shaper, Karachi Hub
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SDG 05: Gender Equality

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  • Around the world, an estimated 27% of women experience physical or sexual abuse in their lifetime.
  • In South Asia, lifetime intimate partner violence is 35% higher than the global average.
  • Here are three ways to tackle gender-based violence in South Asian communities.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a global issue that affects 1 in 3 women during their lifetime.

GBV can be sexual, physical, verbal, psychological (emotional), or socioeconomic and can take many forms, from threats and coercion to rape or murder. It is often directed against a person because of their sex or gender but numbers show it disproportionately affects women and girls.

In South Asia specifically, the prevalence of lifetime intimate partner violence is 35% higher than the global average.

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GBV is a severe violation of the human rights of women and girls. It is a barrier to global socioeconomic development and requires urgent attention. Tackling GBV is a key objective of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on gender, particularly goal 5, “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.


The reasons for GBV in South Asian Communities are complex and include a combination of socio-economic structures, gender inequality and inadequate investment in gender-responsive social services.

Our approach in responding to GBV must prioritize delivering services that promote the health, well-being, and safety of women and girls. It must include the construction of infrastructure and systems that safeguard women and girls. Further, the inclusion of women in the police and healthcare services, along with the provision of survivor-centric protection mechanisms to the victim/survivors, is essential in addressing GBV. Here are three ways to tackle GBV in South Asian communities:

1. One-stop protection centres (OSPC)

The OSPC operates as a one-location centre providing immediate support and assistance to victims/survivors of GBV by placing all sectoral responses (health, psychosocial, counselling, legal services, and police) under one roof. Women and girls in South Asian communities face mobility challenges. OSPCs eliminate the need for victims/survivors to travel to multiple locations in a state of vulnerability to access support services. Instead, assistance is made available to them at one place that houses all the services a victim/survivor requires.

It results in better sectoral coordination and response by improving the experience of victims/survivors and complainants within the criminal justice system (CJS). OSPCs reduce delays and potential attrition through fast-track movement in response to an incident of GBV.

This model has been successful in Bangladesh in tackling GBV. Since its establishment in 2009, the model has supported 8,653 women and children. Given their success, there are plans to establish this model in 40 districts in Bangladesh.

2. Deploying women in law enforcement and healthcare services

Women remain underrepresented in law enforcement and healthcare services in South Asia. Right now, women only comprise 6-20% of law enforcement officers in the region. In Pakistan, the number of employed female healthcare practitioners is 18%. Similarly, in India, far more men than women are hired for medical leadership positions.

Women’s participation in law enforcement and healthcare services improves the quality of the services and enhances operational effectiveness. A study has found that ‘agencies with more representative workforces benefit from higher levels of trust from the populations they serve.’'

Women police officers undergoing formal training in Sindh, Pakistan. Photo by Rida Tahir.
Women police officers undergoing formal training in Sindh, Pakistan. Photo by Rida Tahir.

Female first responders are better equipped to respond to GBV as they are better positioned to meet the needs of women and girls in their community, thereby improving the responses to GBV crimes.

Globally, less than 40% of women who experience violence report it. Including female officers and healthcare providers encourages female victims/survivors of GBV to report their experiences. This increases reporting of GBV crimes and results in the investigation and prosecution of offenders. Governments in South Asian countries must provide incentives to women to increase their representation in law enforcement and healthcare services.

3. Providing survivor-centric protection mechanisms in courtrooms

The testimony of a witness is one of the crucial pieces of evidence based on which the guilt of the accused is determined in GBV crimes. However, witnesses often refrain from coming forward to assist the judiciary due to the lack of protection mechanisms in the courtroom.

In some cases, the experience of seeing the perpetrator might cause extreme fear and shock in the mind of the victim/survivor/witness. In other cases, the courtroom environment can become stressful. Therefore, several measures must be taken to ensure the case is successfully prosecuted and the trial process is not compromised.

According to research, measures such as video testimonies or excluding the general public from a trial hearing protect the witness’s identity, privacy and dignity. Other measures, including witness concealment or allowing witnesses to remain anonymous, can protect their physical security. Overall, this can help increase their confidence when providing testimony in the courtroom.

Violence against Women and Girls Lessons from South Asia. Source: World Bank (2014).
Violence against Women and Girls Lessons from South Asia. Source: World Bank (2014).

Survivor-centric protection mechanisms in courtrooms are generally authorised and regulated under criminal (procedural) law. For example, in Pakistan, the recently enacted Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Act 2021 provides 'distance recording of testimonies through video-conferencing, audio-video links and modem devices'. Since the enactment of this law in Pakistan, the conviction rate has risen to around 16% from 3% in special courts utilising survivor-centric protection mechanisms.

By combining the three approaches outlined above, we can work towards tackling GBV in South Asian communities to reduce gender inequality and empower all women and girls. But we must begin today.

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