In this day and age, women are seen representing different fields such as politics, business, arts, education and law. Unlike earlier days, we witness the efforts taken and contribution made by women towards the sustainability of their country’s economy. But, it is unfortunate to perceive that the concept in Asia is fairly unwilling to recognize women as ‘independent individuals,’ while the western world is more open to the changing concepts of women taking over each field. The gender-based violence is one such example. It is more highlighted in the Asian region rather than the Western world and had been a theme which created much social discussion among intellectuals and certain authorities, but sadly has no proper solution as yet.
Gender-based violence can be based on sexual harassment and other types of psychological, economical, verbal, sexual and physical abuse. It is the females who are mostly affected by these and they are treated with much inferiority, especially in the Asian region. Sadly, the relevant authorities do not seem to be interested in looking in to the matter due to the credence spread throughout the region that they still do live in a male-dominated society. In the past, women were forced for marriage and reproduction as if they were slaves manipulated by their husbands. We cannot engage in speech on empowering women simply without addressing the problems they face, particularly those associated with harassment. Women are most vulnerable to get ridiculed, abused and harassed at their workplaces, in public, at home and schools.
Furthermore, certain males have developed an inferiority complex which persuades them to harass women when they emerge in society, whatever the sector it could be. At times, this can also have a psychological aspect - even going to the extent of sadistic behaviour counting mental and sexual frustration, passing remarks and defaming and humiliating woman merely for temporary pleasures. They are in fact encouraged to behave so by the ruthless belief that women are highly dependent. This very conventional way of thinking should incontrovertibly change. Creating a more civilized society is the responsibility of educational institutions as well as the government.
Taking all these facts into consideration, the forum against gender-based violence launched its 16 days of activism against the gender-based violence campaign amongst a distinguished audience at the Hilton Residencies in Colombo.
The 16 days campaign in Sri Lanka is annually organised by the Forum against Gender-based Violence. The forum was set up in 2005. The Forum, at present, is a collective of 50 agencies comprising of the government, United Nations, national and international non-governmental organisations, community based organisations and individual experts in the field. Under the leadership of the UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund as the chair of the Forum, has evolved into a national-level platform for coordinated advocacy and collective actions against gender-based violence in Sri Lanka.
This year, the theme highlights the significance of making education safe. Education is universally accepted as a tool to benefit individuals and in turn promote national development. It is considered as one of the most effective development investments a country can make. For many years, education has primarily focused on access and parity. According to recent data, Sri Lanka has achieved gender parity in primary, secondary, tertiary and vocational education in general.
The most commonly mentioned obstacles to education are poverty, minority status and disability. The ability of both girls and boys to exercise their rights to take part and benefit from education is too hampered by gender-based violence and customary attitudes about the status of men and women.
The Forum this time was held under the patronage of Women and Child Affairs Minister Ms. Chandrani Bandara, Deputy Justice Minister Mr. Dushmantha Mithrapala, Secretary of Women and Child Affairs Ministry Ms. Chandrani Senevirathne, together with the participation of Mr. Alain Sibenaler , UNFPA’s Representative and the Chair of the Forum against Gender Based Violence, Dr. Sepali Kottegoda , Women and Media Collective Executive Director, Mr. Hans Billmoria , The Grass rooted Trust Director, Ms. Girty Gamage , Emeritus Professor of Education, Colombo University, Mr. Velusamy Weerasingham , Gender Equality Specialist, Ms Mariam Wadwood , (Women in Need) and Ms. Udeni Thewarapperuma , SPICE /USAID.
Mr. Sibenaler, delivering the welcome address, explained the rationale of the operation He stated that the campaign signifies the national forum’s commitment to ensure that education is safe for all, by illuminating gender-based violence in the educational sector. He stressed that every woman and girl has the right to live free of gender discrimination and violence. “Thus, we all have a part to play in eliminating gender-based violence,” he said.
Women and Child Affairs Minister Ms. Chandrani Bandara said in her speech that Sri Lanka’s theme of making education safe for all by eliminating gender-based violence was essential to the country.
According to her, this issue had not been previously focused upon as a priority, and it needed to be addressed more systematically. She said the Ministry, which was also a member of the Forum, strives to make education safe. A national action plan to address gender-based violence was being foraminate by the Women and Child Affairs Ministry in collaboration with eight other ministries, she expressed.
Grassrooted Trust Director Hans Billimoria stated that two of their current programmes were in two schools in Colombo, and they intended to commence a comprehensive relationship education at these locations. He said our children need to understand how to interact with each other in society.
Mr. Billimoria said Cyber exploitation violence which is currently in Sri Lanka, was sadly, peer led. Many young people, especially girls, have the problem of being blackmailed and threatened through social media, he said. When informed of this problem to the child protection authority, they built a special task force including the CID cyber crimes unit. He said it was not a ‘Colombo problem,’ but a problem that existed wherever a sophisticated mobile phone was present. So in this sphere, we need to do a little more in our schools, in terms of talking to our students, about how they should interact with each other. When we talk about education, it doesn’t mean that the government solely bears all responsibility. As observers, we should by prudent and take wise measures to end this predicament. Sexual education is needed in schools as a part of health science.
Ms. Girty Gamage from the Centre for Women’s Research pointed out that gender stereo typing in schools had become a major issue.
This was figured out after a research done a decade ago. They recommended to the NIE a complete curriculum revision which had not been implemented up to date. But now, under the guidance of Prof. Gunapala Nanayakkara as the DG of NIE, the establishment has taken these issues into serious consideration and during these 16 days of activism they have planned to conduct three training programmes.
Gender Equality Specialist Velusamy Weerasingham said when talking about gender-based violence, it referred to women’s harassment. Rather than emphasizing on women’s harassment, we need to talk on how men could contribute towards addressing this problem, he said. “In a recent research, a selected group of males were questioned as to why they cause violence. The saddest part was, 86 per cent of them stated that they do it because they have the power and the right to do so. This is very critical, because there is a question as to how they arrived at such a conclusion,” he said.
Equality in the learning process means that all learners should be exposed to teaching methods and material that are free of stereotypes and gender bias. Equality of educational outcomes means that girls and boys enjoy equal opportunities to achieve and outcomes are based on their individual efforts. This implies that career opportunities, the time needed to secure employment after leaving full time education and the earnings of men and women with similar qualifications and experience are equal.
Meanwhile, the Act Drama Foundation performed an act regarding genderbased violence which carried a strong message and made the public aware of the necessity of preventing such violence. Thus, education plays a vital role in preventing gender-based violence and creating a safer and peaceful atmosphere for women.