In a first, Dalit women from four South Asian countries made a representation at the United Nations in Geneva on their struggles and movements earlier this month.

Following a side event at the UN Human Rights Council on multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence against Dalit women and women from similarly affected communities, non-government organisations -- IMADR, Human Rights Watch, Minority Rights Group International and the International Dalit Solidarity Network called on UN member states to support efforts to eliminate gender and caste based discrimination.

The multiple forms of discrimination and violence against Dalit women have mostly been neglected until now, but some UN human rights bodies, including Special Rapporteurs and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, have begun to pay attention to this serious human rights issue.

Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences said, “The reality of Dalit women and girls is one of exclusion and marginalisation in geographic contexts within which they live. They are often victims of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights violations, including sexual abuse and violence. They are often displaced; pushed into forced and/or bonded labour, prostitution and trafficking; and also experience inter and intra-community violations of rights.”

The ambassador from the German UN Mission, Hanns Heinrich Schumacher, said he had been “shocked” when gathering information about the situation of Dalit women and came to realise the “urgency, the dimension of the problem.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called on UN member states to “take on the challenge of addressing caste-based discrimination and the human rights violations flowing from this seriously and by mobilising all of their relevant institutions to this end.”

The group consisted of women from India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Whether lobbying at the UN makes a difference on the ground is another question but the Dalit activists visiting Geneva have already travelled very far – in more than one sense of the word.  

“It is my first experience with such high level meetings. I am watching what is happening and learning how to lobby, how to put forward different themes and key points to the international community,” said Bagwhani Rathore of Pakistan in a statement.