by Chandrika Gadiewasam
● Cyber crime a serious emerging threat to young women
● Sri Lanka's legislation to protect women comparatively strong
● Women often do not know their rights
● Sri Lanka as a prime tourism destination could be tarnished by GBV
It is estimated that one in four of Sri Lankan women are victims of domestic violence. It makes little difference if one lives in Colombo, in the rural outskirts of the country or if one belongs to so-called educated diaspora living in "progressive" countries. Marriage in particular, appears to provide a licence for men to abuse their wives with impunity, leading to cycles of violence and ripple effects which brutalise children and lead to generations who suffer from traumatic memories. It is also estimated that half of all women murdered worldwide are killed by their spouse or intimate partner. So how does the violence that begins with a drunken slap go down the slippery slope to battery, abuse, marital rape, manslaughter and even murder? Will cyber crimes lead to even more suicide in Sri Lanka? What can be done by society to prevent the suffering of its vulnerable women and children, and to prevent prolonged cycles of abuse, trauma and violence which sap at the very foundations of human wellbeing?
One organisation at the forefront of the fight to eradicate the scourge of gender-based violence in Sri Lanka is the long standing "Women in Need"(WIN) organisation which has for many years made determined efforts in a number of diverse areas, aiming for the protection of women and children from violence. Although WIN started as a"Drop-in Centre" for women in crisis, in time, the issues that WIN was called upon to handle became more complex and diverse. A number of its long term initiatives now include the provision of legal advice, counselling and safe houses to women who are under the threat of domestic assault, working with the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs and with the Police and judiciary, raising awareness among stakeholders including men and boys, school children,university students, state,police and legal personnel etc.
WIN Executive Director Savithri Wijesekera discussed the work and achievements of WIN in the recent past, in addressing gender-based violence in Sri Lanka. According to her, many women are still not aware of their rights, and recourse and also there are deeply entrenched attitudes of stigma attached to women who break the silence about their suffering.
New threat of cyber harassment
Furthermore, she strongly emphasised women themselves should bring up their sons to respect women, and not to treat them as inferior or sexual objects; this appears to be more widespread in Asia.The message from all sources therefore should be that this kind of actions will not be tolerated.
Often in cases of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), whether incidents happen in the domestic environment or on the street, or at the workplace, it is seen that women and girls hesitate to take action and seek legal recourse with a number of economic, social and institutional factors contributing to this reluctance. Through its numerous services, WIN facilitates victims/survivors of sexual and gender based violence to access legal and other remedies provided in law. Some projects are articulated in such a way as to address the challenges and various obstacles faced by women victims in accessing the justice process. For example A current project "Ensuring Formal Justice Sector Responsibility and Accountability to redress Sexual and Gender Based Violence against Women and Girls" seeks to encourage women to seek redress through legal means. Under this project WIN, in consultation with The Asia Foundation is engaged in a research where formal justice sector responses are documented and analysed. Attorney-at-Law Niroshika Wegiriya who co ordinates this project was interviewed in a regard to its scope.