PP’s contribution to the 16 Days Campaign. She blogs at http://no-to-polsambol.blogspot.com
Growing up in Sri Lanka means you get used to the cat calls, the whistles, the insults, the occasional grope in the bus. You tend to also brush them off because almost everyone else seem to do so. Because “boys will be boys” after all.
When I was 17, I decided to do my A/L project on violence against women. I contacted WIN, asked them if I could come see them about my school project and went armed with my pen and paper, naively thinking violence against women wasn’t a huge problem in Sri Lanka. Sure we get groped, but we are a buddhist country are we not? We certainly like to proclaim we are.
The stories I heard at WIN made my blood curdle. I was told of the woman who was tied to the rafters and beaten by her husband every weekend when he came home from the city where he worked. I was told about the woman who had no choice but to go back to her husband after he cut off her ear with a knife, because she was economically dependent on him, because she had to “think about her children”. About the woman who’s son was in prison for murder because after years of watching his father abuse his mother, he was finally old enough to do something about it. He ended up killing his father. About the woman who went to the police to report an abusive husband who beat her only to be told “Miniha gahanne naththam kauru gahannada” (if your man can’t beat you, then who can). Those stories have never left me because of how hard and fast I was brought down to earth. Women are abused here. It’s just that no one talks about it, because it happens within families, in homes. Because “we don’t wash our dirty laundry in public my dear”.
While domestic violence is a huge problem for the women in Sri Lanka, it is not the only way in which they experience gender-based violence. Sri Lanka needs to recognise marital rape. Sri Lanka needs to allow safe, legal abortions at least for women who have been raped or subject to incest. Currently, the law does not permit this. Victims of rape and incest are victimised again, by draconian laws that are several centuries old.
Women make up the majority in the industries that bring in the most foreign remittances. While policymakers are quick to crow about the money coming in, they seem to take for granted the safety and well being of the workers, especially the women, who are going out. Everyday we hear of women who have been beaten, raped and abused, who make the headlines for a day and then get buried with the rest of the old stories. Instead, we have policy makers who propose we double the amount of people we send out, so that we can make more money, without proposing any safeguards to protect those who go out.
The media needs to take responsibility to break the stereotypes around women who are usually portrayed as the long suffering, all giving mother, the dutiful daughter or the obedient wife. Rarely have I seen a woman being shown as an equal. The problem with feeding this kind of behaviour, especially during prime time on national television and radio is that both men and women watching these shows internalise it, and consider it not only normal, but also acceptable.
It’s time we stopped accepting things the way they are and started speaking out, like Roel did. It’s ok to talk about it. What’s not ok is to suffer in silence.
The 16 days is a good a time to start; say no to violence. It hurts us all.