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International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women Violence-free Sri Lanka for women

27 November 2019 12:53 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Gender-based violence occurs in all parts of the world including Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, in many cultures, violence towards women is accepted as a social norm. Women are affected by diverse forms of sexual violence, most commonly sexual exploitation, rape, forced and child marriage. This is because of deeply entrenched poverty, low levels of education and societal values. This must be challenged as a matter of urgency, and the blame faced by victims must be eliminated.   

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), more than one third of women have faced gender-based violence at some point of their life, which makes this one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. Yet, it remains a topic that is surrounded by taboo, due to societal denial.   

The background of social and cultural beliefs that discriminate against girls and women and objectifies them is also another major reason for continuing violence against women. The Sri Lanka community is patriarchal. In a society where women and girls have little influence in community decisions, even about their own sexuality or bodies, the lives of women and girls are often controlled by men – community elders, religious leaders, their husbands, fathers, brothers and even sons.   

As the National Forum, we have continuously and consistently raised public awareness regarding the gravity of gender-based violence within Sri Lanka, and advocated for policy change. But there is much to be done

Mr. Bojan Kolundzija

There are laws, responsible institutions and resources in place in Sri Lanka. But, many women complain that the authorities have failed to provide lasting solutions to the issues.   

The Following table shows the complaints received by 1938 women Help Line within the year of 2019.   

Despite that the number of complaints received is relatively less, the actual number of cases where women face sexual harassment or any sort of violence is very high. Due to fear, threat or unawareness, only a lesser percentage of the affected women report these incidents to the police or any authorities.   

Creating awareness and providing gender sensitization training to all is essential. What is also needed is a collective conscience to change mindsets. Even women have a poor understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment and also what actions to take against the culprits. The first step to solving the issue is raising knowledge and awareness across the population.   

Opportunities to be in safe supportive spaces or to engage in girl/woman friendly dialogue that builds and lifts them up are rare. Awareness programmes should be held to encourage women to speak up for themselves and demand the space to make choices over their bodies and sexuality so that there will be lower levels of community violence. They must be able to support their peers to seek help when violence occurs. Women should be encouraged to challenge the normalized violence and begin to transform their community to one where they have a loud unified voice that challenges unjust beliefs and practices.   

Commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Monday (25), the UNFPA held a press conference that coincided with the global campaign ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence’, which runs each year. During the event, the UNFPA also celebrated the 15th anniversary of the establishment of a National Forum against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) which is a collective of over 50 organisations representing Governments, UN Agencies, national and international non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations and individual experts in the field co-chaired by UNFPA and OXFAM.   

Creating awareness and providing gender sensitization training to all is essential. What is also needed is a collective conscience to change mindsets

Delivering the opening remarks, Ms. Ritsu Nacken, Co-Chair of the Nation Forum against GBV and the UNFPA Representative in Sri Lanka, said: “Women are held back by the consequences of gender-based violence. We must raise our voices and stand firmly against it, and ensure that there is appropriate policy action to put an end to it. Given the recent public discourse on the release of a murder convict, it further highlighted the brutality of such incidents which are very real and pertinent. While 15 years of continuous efforts of the National Forum have ensured that we’ve achieved a much safer Sri Lanka for women and girls, there is still a long way ahead of us before we truly achieve gender equality.”   

Mr. Bojan Kolundzija, Co-Chair of the National Forum against GBV and the Country Director of OXFAM Sri Lanka added, “As the National Forum, we have continuously and consistently raised public awareness regarding the gravity of gender-based violence within Sri Lanka, and advocated for policy change. But there is much to be done. We must ensure a Sri Lanka where everyone can be held accountable for incidents of violence, regardless of whether it occurs at home, at work or on public transport, by triggering a societal shift in the perspective towards this issue.”   

Sri Lanka is a country that boasts of centuries old culture and traditions. A culture of a country directly impacts on the behaviour of its citizens. One reason people differ in their behaviour is that they have different cultures. Culture reflects the ideas and meanings they share. Attitudes towards gender provide us with an insight into how changing attitudes as a society may support efforts for social change. Academics believe that Sri Lankans need a drastic change in their attitudes towards gender-related topics. Unless there are open and continuous public discussions about such topics with the participation of the general public, a change in the current situation is unrealistic.   


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