The 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence (GBV) campaign is not merely a time to build global awareness and strengthen public support on actions taken to end GBV but it is also a time for policy makers to reiterate the processes and practices adopted to end to all forms of violence against women.
An annual event during the 16 days (25th November – 10th December) is the policy dialogue which brings together government representatives and civil society groups working on women’s rights issues to assess the progress made to curb GBV. Organised by the Forum against GBV the policy dialogue this year was on the 8th of December at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, Colombo.
The meeting commenced with a welcome note from the Chair of the GBV Forum and UNFPA Representative, Alain Sibenaler followed by opening remarks and introduction to the programme by Eric Illayapparchchi, Secretary to the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs and Ashika Gunasena, Programme Director of CARE Sri Lanka respectively.
The focus of the policy dialogue is derived from the National Human Rights Actions Plan 2011 – 2016 (NHRAP) taking into consideration five priority areas that falls under women’s rights. This includes strengthening police Women and Children’s Desks, implementation of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA), preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, reviewing the Vagrants Ordinance and protection of women in armed conflict. While the policy dialogue in 2012 highlighted these five areas the dialogue in 2013 reviewed progress on three selected priority areas; police women and children’s desks, Prevention of Domestic Violence Act and protection of conflict affected women.
In 2014 the GBV Forum recognised the progress made in the selected priority areas keeping in mind that there is much left to be done for each area to be fully addressed. A referral system for victims and survivors of Gender Based Violence was clearly defined by Bimali Amarasekara, Technical Coordinator Gender and Women’s Empowerment SELAJSI Programme, UNDP. This system, for women and children, is a pathway leading to better reporting, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.
The police Women’s and Children’s desks in Matara and Galle districts have already initiated a sturdy referral system for women who are victims of violence. IP Varuni Bogahawatta from the police desk in Matara explained that there are many victims that visit the shelter for help. “We work with victims from the plantation sector as we have officers who are fluent in the Tamil language” says the IP. Kanchana Mapidigama of the Galle desk also spoke of progress made since they started in January 2013. The GBV Hospital Desk, Mithuru Piyasa, has seen over 700 cases for this year out of which 90 are perpetrators of GBV in search of assistance. Dr. Samanmali a representative of Mithuru Piyasa said that counselling, medical services and social help are some of the services that they provide within the referral model.
Speaking of the progress made since the last policy dialogue in 2013 Asoka Alawatte, Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs said that a multi-sector mechanism has been put in place with the 331 police women and children’s desks that have been established across the island. “Through this we have conducted capacity building workshops and awareness programmes on GBV for police officers and conduct GBV activities under the Rs. 700 Million programme” said Alawatte. From the police women and children’s desks SSP Jayasooriya said “We ensure that all cases are handled by a female police officer. There is a linguistic problem however the entire police department is open and prepared to conducted investigations on matters related to GBV. It is our duty to ensure the prosecution of offenders but we cannot do this alone, we need the support of various stakeholders.” The Director Bureau for the Prevention and Abuse of Children and Women, SSP Jayasooriya also briefed the audience on the number of reported cases since the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act in 2005.
Out of the GBV Forum’s collaborative efforts an activity that is being conducted presently is the mapping of GBV services for survivors of violence at divisional and district level. According to Chulanandi the mapping is in response to the lack of consolidated and updated information at the District and Divisional level to support Women Development Officers who provide assistance for victims of GBV. Through the mapping of services the Forum aims to improve the level of awareness among officials, produce a comprehensive database on services to victims and strengthen access to timely and quality services for victims. Meanwhile, to address issues for victims of the North and East special attention was paid to the development of a language mapping initiative that has been set out at selected police stations in the North and East of Sri Lanka. It has been identified that in the North and East there is a lack of female police officers to take up the issue of GBV. A language barrier also exists which not only creates problems in courts but loses confidence among victims as they come across many difficulties when lodging a complaint. Talking about the language mapping at the policy dialogue Ranitha Gnanarajah representative from FOKUS Women said “a friendly and conducive environment should be established in post conflict areas so that affected women and children feel safe. Police units are the only place they can seek justice therefore all units should be equipped adequately.”
The policy dialogue concluded with an interactive discussion moderated by Cyrene Siriwardhana, Senior Advocacy Advisor of Oxfam. Each member of the panel touched on elements pertaining to GBV within the country and how the selected area can be improved to ensure an easy process to provide support for victims of violence. From the panel discussion it was noted that victims of GBV were not well aware of the available shelters in the island and there is a sense of apprehension from the community to send victims to these shelters. From the panel Savithri Gunasekara from Women in Need said that while confidentiality is a key essence in running a shelter; all the shelters should be registered under the ministry of Women’s affairs so that there is uniformity with the rules and monitoring.
While substantial progress has been made for victims of GBV through the GBV Forum there remains a space of commitment from more policy makers. “There is a need to bring in more sectors into this discussion, like justice and education which are all needed” said Moderator, Cyrene Siriwardhana.
Action points from the dialogue will be drawn up from the 2014 GBV Forum policy dialogue and carried forward to further improve the selected priority areas.