Violence against women, sexual harassment and suppression had reached unprecedented levels in Sri Lanka and the lives of women were at risk. The key to solving the issue was not just punishing those responsible, but also conducting awareness and educational programmes, said Dimuthu Attygalle, President of ‘Free Women’, an organisation espousing women’s rights.
Attygalle, a Politbureau member of JVP breakaway faction, Frontline Socialist Party, said that ruling party politicians were making attempts to dodge the widespread crucial issue and were shirking their responsibility, instead of finding a solution, they blamed the media, claiming that sexual harassment, rape and violence against women in society had been exaggerated by the media and due to undue importance attached to such incidents by both print and electronic media in their reportage, the situation has worsened.
“There are at least five incidents of sexual abuse reported in the media everyday and the number of cases which goes unreported are much greater,” she said.
Hence, there was a need for an organisation to voice the problems faced by women and to force the establishment to find a solution to the nagging problem, she said adding that ‘Free Women’ would play a vital role in this respect.
Inequality of women and gender bias is at a very high level in our society and women working in the Free Trade Zones, Middle East, Plantations etc are cheated with low wages and face economic deprivation. They are also harassed and sexually abused with no protection, she said.
“There is a need to educate these women about their rights and the laws governing the sectors where they are employed. Their ignorance has exacerbated the problem,” the former JVPer explained.
She also focused attention on the women living in the North and said that there was a large number of war widows who were facing severe economic difficulties and sexual harassment.
They had not completely got out of the insecurity they had to face during the civil strife and there were many who are still displaced and homeless and some of them have no choice other than prostitution or suicide, she said.
‘Free Women’ will launch a photographic exhibition titled ‘Unseen Colours’ on August 5 and 6 at the Public LIbrary, Colombo portraying the crucial issues faced by women and on 6 a book will be launched on ‘Self-determination and divide and rule’ at the same venue.
By Harischandra Gunaratna