South Asian women have made significant progress in recent years, but still face many challenges due to traditional mindsets and gender-based inequalities. These inequalities are further complicated by factors such as caste, class, religion, ethnicity, and location. South Asian girls and women do not have the same life advantage as their Western counterparts due to gender disparities in health care.
In order to overcome these gender-based inequalities, a human rights based approach is needed. Women leaders of South Asia are working to protect the rights of their communities and advocate for gender equality. Examples include Annie Namala, an Indian social activist who has been working with Dalit communities for over two decades, and other activists who are fighting for equal access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunities for South Asian women.
South Asia is one of the continents where one would find the major chunk of female population among the overall all world population which consists of densely populated countries like India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. In 2007 the population of this region was 1.7 billion which nearly 24% of the world total population is. Along with that South Asia is considered to be an as poorest region in the world as the illiteracy rate is very high. The ratio of women in the South Asian population is around half or near to half.
Many third world countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka lies in South Asia so the majority of the population lives in the rural area as the ratio of the rural area in south Asia is more than an urban area.
In Asian culture, the value and importance of women are considered to be of the lowest rank as their culture and norms based on a traditional societal hierarchy in which men are superior to women. The thought of the people in this region is that “girls are born to be fed throughout their lives” whereas “boys are born to earn and support the family.
Here are some influential South Asian women in the modern world:
- Priyanka Chopra Jonas (India) – actress, singer, and former Miss World.
- Padma Lakshmi (India) – actress, model, and television host best known as the host of “Top Chef”.
- Kamala Harris (USA/India) – Vice President of the United States and first woman, first South Asian woman, and first African American woman to hold the office.
- Arundhati Bhattacharya (India) – former chairman of the State Bank of India, the first woman to hold the position.
- Mukesh Ambani’s daughters, Isha and Akash Ambani (India) – chairs of Jio and Reliance Retail, respectively, and among the youngest women in the world to lead major corporations.
- Roshni Nadar Malhotra (India) – CEO and chairperson of HCL Technologies, the first woman to head a major Indian IT company.
- Radhika Jones (India/USA) – editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair and former editorial director of the New York Times Book Review.
- Shabnam Mogharabi (Pakistan) – CEO of SoulPancake, a media and entertainment company co-founded by Rainn Wilson.
- Mira Nair (India) – film director, producer, and screenwriter.
- Rupi Kaur (India/Canada) – poet and artist known for her work on themes of femininity, migration, and healing.
The birth of the baby boy is beingcelebrated whereas the birth of a baby girl is not welcomed. And in a rural area, the condition is worse because of the highest illiteracy rate. Women lag behind men in literacy, workforce participation, reproductive rights and most other areas. If we took an example of India as India covers the majority of the population of South Asia, when women came home carrying a baby girl, her mother in law mashed a poisonous coriander into a dollop of oil and forced it down the infant’s throat. Because the reason behind that is sacrificing a daughter guarantees a son in next pregnancy.
The ongoing cultural tradition that is prevailing in South-East Asia continues the subordinate position of women both economically and socially when it comes to women to go out and work as a corporate professional. In this region, it is very common that young, immature single girls and women go through severe physical and psychological mental stress and burden because of the violent behavior of men towards them at every stage of life.
The nature of violence on women in Asian society usually includes wife-beating by their husbands, murder of wife, kidnapping, rape, physical assault, and acid throwing women out of their homes. The most common and frequent reasons for acts of violence are domestic quarrels due to the inability of a woman’s family to make dowry payments at the time of marriage to their soon to be husband’s family, many women and young children from this region are trafficked and forced into prostitution, undesired marriages and bonded labor.
Societal problems like illiteracy, political forces, a feudal and tribal culture, misunderstanding and misinterpretation of religious principles, and above all a girl’s low status in the society encourage and sustain sexual exploitation of women. The trafficked victims face violence, intimidation, rape and torture from the employers, brothel owners and even law enforcement agents. This sexual servitude is maintained through overt coercion, physical abuse, emotional blackmail, economic deprivation, social isolation, and death threats. Customs and traditions are often used to justify violence.
The current scenario in this region is still dramatic and alarming when it comes to women’s survival and freedom of rights, particularly in the rural and feudal areas, where the tribal chief and the Jirga remain in command. Non-governmental organizations, women rights movements, Amnesty International and human rights workers periodically manage to follow-up the victims of violence and bring the culprits to justice.
Like every action has an equal reaction, these acts of violence, inequality of women in Asian society have a critical impact on women’s mental and physical health. According to a metaanalysis of 13 epidemiological studies in different parts of South Asian continent such as India, the results shown that an overall prevalence rate of mental disorders in women of 64.8 per 1000. Women in this region had significantly higher occurrence rates for things like neuroses, affective disorders, and organic psychoses than men.
A research survey that had been conducted and carried out in Nepal revealed that women had a higher psychiatric morbidity than men, with a sex ratio of 2.8:1 in the health post, and 1.1:1 in the district hospital. A study in Bangladesh showed that the sex ratio for mental disorders was 2:1 and that for suicide was 3:1.
A study carried out in Pakistan showed that factors associated with depressive disorders in upper and middle-class women were marital conflicts (25.5%), conflict with in-laws (13%), financial dependency (10%), lack of meaningful job (14%), and stress of responsibilities at home and at work (9%). Another study conducted in the same country revealed that the most frequent factors forcing women to commit suicide were conflicts with husband and in-laws. The women who face domestic violence from husband and in-laws have no way out because the system considers these acts of violence as acceptable.
The police and law enforcement agencies are normally reluctant to intervene, considering it a domestic dispute. If the woman abandons her marriage, she has to face innumerable problems, like no acceptance from society, financial constraints and emotional problems of children growing up without the father. The tendency of women to internalize pain and stress, and their lower status with less power over their environment, render them more vulnerable to depression when under stress.
It was also revealed that in some regions of this continent, women violence has reached staggering levels; in a recent population-based study from India, nearly half of women reported physical violence. In most of the South Asian countries, only women are thought to be responsible for producing the next generation, and the blame for the absence of the desired number of children is unquestioningly placed on them, leading to a destabilization of their social status.
Studies have revealed that severe emotional harassment is experienced by a large number of these women in their marital homes in the form of ostracism from family celebrations, taunting, and stigmatization, as well as beating, and withholding of food and health care. A study carried out in Karachi explored the experiences of women suffering from secondary infertility: 10.5% of them reported they were physically and verbally abused by husbands and 16.3% by inlaws. Nearly 70% of women facing physical abuse and 60% of those facing verbal abuse suffered severe mental distress.
There are several types of violence against women, not all of which take the form of brutal assaults. Demands by society on widows, however young they were, to lead a rigidly austere life, socially isolated and without any access to men, have been condoned for ages as necessary measures to keep them from temptation and sin. The practice of “Sati” in certain parts of India, by which the wife threw herself into the funeral pyre of her husband, has been documented in the not too distant past.
Such behaviors of self-denial, torture and even death are indeed sanctified and glorified and there are even temples erected for the goddess of a site. The rate of mental distress has been reported to be high also in working women in South-East Asian countries, and cultural factors are among the contributing variables. This mental distress usually remains unacknowledged. Finally, the recent economic reforms in South-East Asia have been accompanied by a rise in the incidence of reported domestic violence, rape, and alcohol abuse.
Even in the globalized world, the status of women in this so-called developing nations, women are deprived of their socio-economic and legal rights. They live in a system where religious injunctions, tribal codes, feudal traditions and discriminatory laws are prevalent. They are beset by a lifetime social and psychological disadvantage, coupled with long years of childbearing. They often end up experiencing poverty, isolation and psychological disability. In some urban regions of South-Asian countries, women’s social roles have changed to some extent. They have now comparatively more opportunities for education, employment and enjoyment of civil rights within society. However, the de-stereotyping of the gender roles which have been traditionally assigned by our society is still far away.