The unfinished feminist business
For quite some time, we were talking about violence against our women
but we never understood that we could make a difference in helping
change more minds, more laws.
It is in this context we can be happy that the Government itself is
becoming seriously concerned about violence against women. It was
reported recently that the Government has decided to bring in 'The
Violence Against Women' Bill to ensure the safety of our women.
According to the Ministry spokesperson, the Bill will not clash with
the traditional Sri Lankan culture, lifestyle and social values. It
would not encourage to dissolve nuclear families and will support to
save women who severely suffer.
This issue has become more visible in the media and has been
addressed in the recent past by an increasing number of NGOs and other
However, despite the changes, violence against women remains to a
large degree hidden and surrounded by taboos, underpinned by a strong
tradition of shame and guilt in the case of disclosure, especially in
small villages and towns.
It incorporates powerful stereotypes about women and men's
traditional roles in family life. Women victims have imprinted in their
minds all the stereotypes about men's dominant social roles, as well as
a number of myths, such as children needing the father, even if he is
abusive. The orthodox religions, too, perpetuate the conservative model
of the family and traditional gender roles.
Their influence in this field cannot be overestimated. The religious
teaching on indissolubility of marriage combined with powerful social
myths, make a decision to leave an abusive relationship very difficult.
It is true that a reasonable number of women's NGOs provide abused
women with various forms of assistance. Women's organizations and other
domestic violence programs provide mostly legal and psychological
assistance; they run hotlines and shelters. It should be noted, however,
that only a small number of these NGOs are actually able to provide
specialists' care to women and children who are victims of violence.
Women's NGOs cannot depend on Government support all the way; they
should rather try to develop their own, alternative programs,
independent of the current political atmosphere. They should also
seriously focus on awareness raising and educating society, including
the employees of administration of justice - about the problem of
violence against women. The women themselves should also learn about
The legislators should provide clearly worded definitions and
formulate specific executive regulations; it could help to narrow the
gap between the letter of law and law in practice and build an effective
barrier against the prejudices of those who are responsible for putting
the law into effect.
It is also time for the Women NGOs to launch a campaign to change our
law to introduce legislation (protective or restrictive order) which
will enable the police to remove the perpetrators of domestic violence
from their household.
As the first step, all Women's NGOs should get together and formulate
and conduct a national informational campaign that address the issue of
violence against women and promote a policy 'zero tolerance for violence
I believe three important points should be taken into consideration:
(1) take appropriate actions and measures to break down detrimental
myths about domestic violence and other forms of violence against women
and children; eliminate social models provoking violence, eradicate
factors increasing the risk of labelling and marginalization of victims
(2) develop and undertake media campaigns and information programs
that explain the nature, extent, causes and consequences of violence
against women and disseminate information on assistance available to the
victims of violence;
(3) raise awareness of the responsibility of the media for generating
violence, also raise awareness of the important role of the media in
informing and educating people about the causes and effects of violence
against women and in stimulating public debate on the topic.
Ending physical and sexual violence requires long-term commitment and
strategies involving all parts of society. The Government has now
committed themselves to overcoming them by passing and enforcing laws
that ensure women's legal rights and punish abusers. In addition,
community-based strategies can focus on empowering women, reaching out
to men, and changing the beliefs and attitudes that permit abusive
Only when women finally gain their place as equal members of society
will violence against women no longer be an invisible norm but, instead,
a shocking aberration.