Commencing November 25 - the date designated by the United Nations - to Eliminate Violence Against Women and continuing for a 16-day period up to December 10 (the International Human Rights Day), the world commemorates 16 days of activism against gender-based violence.
Throughout the 16 days, governments, UN agencies, civil society, and activists come together to raise awareness on this issue that knows no social, economic, or national boundaries. According to The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) more than a third of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. Data released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), shows that on an average, 137 women across the world are killed by a partner or family member every day. The report says it makes “The home the most likely place for a woman to be killed”.
The report reveals that more than half of the 87,000 women killed in 2017 were reported as dying at the hands of those closest to them. Of that figure, approximately 30,000 women were killed by an intimate partner, while another 20,000 died at the hands of a relative.
In India, the National Crime Records Bureau statistics from 2012 to 2016 show that approximately 40% of female reported rape victims were minors, and 95% knew the rapist. The rapists belonged to the “circle of trust” of extended family and friends.
Young girls have nowhere to go. The ‘Guardian’ points out the ‘#MeToo’ movement in the US, in which highly successful and wealthy women finally broke the silence about their experiences of sexual violence, have resulted in the US being ranked as the 10th most dangerous country for women in the poll of 198 countries.
In Sri Lanka, we have a higher female population (52%) than men. The maternal mortality ratio in the country according to the World Health Organisation, is one of the lowest in Asia. As part of Sri Lanka’s contribution to the world wide commemoration of the 16-day programme, the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) will light up the Town Hall building in bright orange for 16 days, highlighting the need to foster a safer environment for women and girls.
Article 12 of Sri Lanka’s Constitution provides for equality for women and men and non-discrimination based on gender and in 1993 adopted the Sri Lanka Women’s Charter. A study by Rasanjalee Perera of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and Anush Edirisinghe of the University of Kelaniya -‘Sexual violence against Women in Sri Lanka 2008’- showed, severe sexual abuses, incest, trafficking and abnormal sexual behaviour etc. have been increasing in the civil society.
The report found 69% of respondents were victims of rape while 22% of the others had been victims of gang rape. And further, there was a clear relationship with sexual violence activities and use of alcohol. When such crimes occurred the study revealed, 52% of the offenders had used alcohol.
The situation of Violence Against Women in Sri Lanka -- a country that boasts of a civilisation of over a thousand years of Buddhist civilisation -- is infinitely worse today. UNFPA statistics reveal that, one in every four women in Sri Lanka has been subjected to sexual abuse by the time she reaches 18! According to police reports, over 33,000 cases of violence against women and children were recorded between 2005 and 2016. Incidences of rape and incest according to the new police database, reveal an increase by 40% during the last 12 years, from 1,463 cases in 2006 to 2,036 in 2016. The report adds, ‘cases reported to the police are likely very low compared to the real number of incidents that occur’. The situation therefore calls for urgent and immediate action rejecting this crime spree against our daughters mothers and sisters.
But with our male-dominated Parliament embroiled in a Constitutional crisis of its own making, the women of our country could expect very little if any attention was paid to the growing problem of violence against women in our country.