Break the silence...
Sumana (her name has been changed to maintain confidentiality) who had been married for the past eight years was facing severe marital problems due to her husband’s addiction to drugs. In addition to this he also suspected her of having an extra marital affair and she was mercilessly beaten up on several occasions.
One day while she was washing clothes he threw a white substance at her from a bottle. She felt a burning liquid running down her neck to her chest. Little did she realize that he had thrown acid at her. She was rushed to the hospital by her neighbors where she was warded for three months where the doctors performed several skin grafts. Meanwhile, her husband who was taken into custody was granted bail within two weeks. After returning from the hospital Sumana decided to stay with her mother in Dambulla. Her husband came to her mother’s home and forcibly brought Sumana to Colombo and started battering her again...
Sumana is not alone...this is not the story of one woman....but of many like her, who suffer in silence
What is violence against women?
The scope of violence against women (VAW) includes all forms and acts whether verbal, non verbal, physical, sexual, psychological, social, cultural and political, which violate the right to life, liberty, dignity, equality and bodily integrity of women and girls.
Most women have become used to tolerating violence due to the prevailing social system within our country. They prefer to endure the violence and do not come forward to find ways and means to minimize it, as they believe that taking action could destroy the family foundation and would be deemed as being disloyal towards the family. However, this behaviour ironically erodes the strong foundation of the family unit, as it negatively affects a woman’s mental, physical well being and affects her relationship with her children and everyone else around her. There are quite a few instances where the acceptance of this behaviour results in irreparable physical damage or even death.
While the term "gender-based violence" includes violence against women and men, most of the victims are women. This is a reality, not only in Sri Lanka, but in many parts of the world. In Sri Lanka the most prevalent types of violence against women are rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, sexual violence, forced prostitution and trafficking. These crimes are not particular to a certain region, but are widespread and cut across class, race, religion, ethnicity, etc. In many cases these violations are hidden, this is especially true of domestic violence, which according to the UN Rapporteur on Violence against Women is reported to have been experienced by 60% of the Sri Lankan women (Wijayatilake, K., 2004, Study on Sexual and Gender Based Violence in selected locations in Sri Lanka, Colombo: CENWOR and UNHCR).
Official records reflect that the levels of violence against women has consistently risen, particularly over the past two decades. Whether this is due to increased reporting or to an increase in the crimes themselves has not been established, but it is probably a combination of the two factors. Service providers to survivors of domestic violence have alarmingly observed that the types of violence are becoming more brutal.
16 days activism against gender-based violence
The efforts of several agencies working together to end violence against women has enabled women to break the silence and access services and resources that could enable them to live a life free from violence. One such national effort, "the Forum against Gender-based Violence", was set up in 2005 in order to facilitate greater coordination, understanding and sharing of information and resources and strengthen multi-sectoral responses to GBV and includes local NGOs, International NGOs, UN agencies, donor agencies and Government representation. The Forum seeks to create public awareness and advocate on the issue of GBV specifically during the 16 days of Activism against gender-based Violence which begins on 25th November, the UN designated International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) and ends on 10th December which is International Human Rights Day. This year, the forum’s theme is : We CAN end violence against women: Commit – Act - Demand
The light at the end of the tunnel
An important step in the right direction was taken in 2005 when the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act was passed. The act provides victims with recourse to protection orders against those who mete out violence to them within the household. Recourse is also available to women within relationships to those who are married and to even children living at home. Other legislation such as the Penal code and the Torture Act also provide relief for women who face violence not only at home but within society including the workplace in the form of sexual harassment.
Women can seek free support and care from Women and Children’s desks that have been established at police stations across the island and from other service providers, such as Women in Need (WIN) and Women’s Development Centre (WDC). These organizations provide counselling, legal support and shelters for those experiencing domestic violence, or any form of violence. The bottom line however is that it is up to the individual to seek help for themselves.
Fortunately, Sumana’s story does end with hope. After deciding enough was enough, Sumana reached out to WIN to obtain relief for the constant abuse she was facing. She is at present living at the WIN shelter receiving counselling from the WIN counsellors. The WIN lawyers are also preparing papers under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act to obtain a protection order from Court. Sumana now has hope of living a life free of violence and humiliation.
Violence against women can be reduced significantly if victims and society take a strong stand against it.
We CAN end violence against women: Commit – Act - Demand
24 Hour Helpline : 011 4718585
Facilitator- Forum against gender-based violence,