Mutants in Sri Lanka: Kill off that violent gene!
The war is over, declared the government three months ago, and all of Sri Lanka breathed a collective sigh of relief. Little did we realise that this was simply an allusion to the end of aerial bombing and other military measures. The life that we Sri Lankans lived during the three decade long “war”, hasn’t changed one tiny bit.
And nobody knows this better than Sri Lanka’s women. The past thirty years of conflict, in the North as well as in the South of the country, has bred a mutant gene of increasingly brutal political and social violence in Sri Lanka. Women have been at the brunt of much of this violence as the mutant gene of violence took hold in the country's men, making them more violent and brutal to the women in their lives.
Last year, the Gender-Based Violence Forum (GBV Forum), a collective of UN and other international and local organisations, alerted Sri Lanka to the fact that “at least 60 percent of all women in Sri Lanka have experienced domestic violence”. They also said that “…the most prevalent types of violence against women are rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, sexual violence, forced prostitution and trafficking."
In Sri Lanka’s decades-long journey of violence, women have been the first and easiest victims. While accurate numbers of displaced women are not available, more than 60% of the 500,000+ displaced people in the country are women. Living in temporary shelters, Displaced persons camps, detention centres and state-run orphanages, women and young girls in the conflict areas have been at very high risk of abuse and violent acts.
Outside these conflict areas, the story isn’t any better. Police stations nationwide routinely record between 8,000 and 10,000 cases of violence against women per month – but women’s rights advocates estimate that this is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
The mutation of violence that set in, spurred on by state-sponsored acts of political violence and intimidation, has firmly taken root. There is no longer any shame in hitting or beating a woman, and this apparently peace-loving Buddhist nation has turned a blind eye to the increasing rape of young girls and incest in the heartlands of the country.
Not even women in the spotlight are spared from violence. Women politicians are verbally abused on Live TV, prominent female actors and singers are assaulted and demeaned as prostitutes, and the prostitutes… well, let’s not go there as I probably wont finish writing this if I take time to spell out every public act of violence against women in the last few years alone.
As Sri Lanka tries to come out of its mind-set of war, and to find another way to define ourselves and what we live for, the impact of this national soul-searching on us women is not immediately clear. Will an end to war mean an end to the violence that is now so commonplace? Will an end to the aerial bombing and the suicide bombers mean that we can stop living in fear, outside our homes as well as within? Will we be safe and find real refuge in the “shelters”? Can we aim for public office without being humiliated and assaulted?
At the risk of being called a cynical pessimist, my answer is a resounding NO. No, because we have not even begun asking the right questions, questions that will help us dig deep into the mindset of violence. No, because the archaic laws that are superficially revised from time to time at the bidding of various UN agencies that have a convention to be ratified, will not lead to the paradigm shift required in our justice system. No, because we do not still talk about it, even though we live through it.
As Sri Lanka slowly edges towards a new era of life without an ongoing military conflict, as we strive to piece together a nation torn apart by racial tensions, and as we work to raise ourselves out of the quagmire of national debt and poor quality of life, we can only hope that the mindset of violence will die a natural death too.
Perhaps we can kill off that genetic mutation in Sri Lankan men, as the final act of war?
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.