The problem of violence against women -
10-29-2007, 05:03 PM
The National Committee on women (NCW) of the Ministry of Women's Affairs is greatly concerned about the increase of violence in general in the country and more especially the increase of incidents of violence against women (VAW).
Sexual assault, rape, incest, domestic violence, sexual harassment in work places, abduction are reported continuously by the media, especially in the Sinhala national dailies. There is a follow-up on these by inquiries made to us and reports of special cases discovered by NGOs and concerned individuals. Criminal and other degrading acts of violence damaging and offensive to the integrity and dignity of the individual, previously common to areas of armed conflict, has in the last decade or more shifted increasingly to other vulnerable women sectors in non-conflict areas.
They are for instance victims amongst migrant women, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), refugees, FTZ women workers, war widows single parents, young women job seekers in garment factories, and other innocent victims - schoolchildren, infants and the near dying octogenarians.
What if the victim is your child, wife or other family member? How would you face the situation?
This article intends to focus on a few salient issues on VAW, though not comprehensively, due to limited space and to assure that (a) action is being taken by the National Committee on Women within its limited mandate, (b) to widen its area of action, (c) increase its functions and powers for more effective investigative procedure - preventive and protective measures.
The UN definition of VAW Article 1 states: "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty whether occurring in public or private life." It is further expanded under acts of coercion, arbitrary deprivation of freedoms, food, education, movement etc. in private or public life. Physical, sexual, psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State.
Viewed from this perspective domestic violence has increased. Sample surveys reveal 60% DV in Sri Lanka. Incest has increased. Though accurate statistics are not available, an yearly increase is shown by Women's Rights Watch, an NGO publication.
The offenders being members of the family, grandfathers and male relatives. Rape has increased double fold over the years. Rape carries a social stigma, not only in Sri Lanka but in most countries. There is a move to replace the word rape and widen the definition of rape. Incest is more common in the West, 34% in USA by stepfathers.
Incest in Sri Lanka has increased. These acts of crime often leave a social residue that brutalises the individual, and perpetrates a lifetime of mental suffering, trauma, shame and penitence for women.
UN Rapporteur on Violence, Radhika Coomaraswamy says: "Though Sri Lanka has signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1981, we have not made it effective as part of our legal system. This needs to be done". The large majority of cases of violence against women go unreported in the media and at police stations.
Despite counselling and other interventions by relatives and friends, NGOs and other institutions, the consequences of violence are often difficult to ascertain. Acts of violence and crime within the home is invisible and would sometimes surface to late for remedial measures.
The case of pregnant mothers who suffer continuous wife - battering have resulted in stillborn infants. There are hundreds more cases. Thousands of women suffer in silence within the domestic sphere for fear of repercussions by the spouse or in-laws.
Domestic violence is considered to be a private affair by husbands until death do part.
Legislation against VAW is incurrent demand by women all over the world, in Sri Lanka too.
Rape trials are worth examining. The UN Rapporteur says: "The pivotal question in a rape trial is whether the victim consented to intercourse or weather the victim resisted. What kind of affair? Most courts require proof in the form of bodilyscars, bruises, injury by bite marks of the victim or the offender. Rape is the only offence in which the complicity of the victim becomes a relevant consideration in the trial and of the punishment of the offender."
The average lay person, especially women believe that justice is not done by the victim where the perpetrator is not given a rigorous penalty.
Numerous reasons are attributed to the high increase in VAW in Sri Lanka. These are not conclusive, though within a wide framework the following are common:
(a) Economic and social exploitation of female labour and the female body. This is on the basis that the second sex is the weaker human being and willing to be exploited or is enamoured by the male approach! Prostitution, trafficking, pornography, sexual slavery, soft porn advertising in the media. All this primarily being the outcome of such exploitation.
(b) Pornography, increase in "Blue film" video parlours, cheap porn publications misrepresenting facts about sex to youth have lured and continue to increase the schoolboy and schoolgirl audience. Under two previous Presidents of Sri Lanka porn publishing houses were raided and sealed at the request of Women NGOs (initiated by the Sinhala women's Organisation (SKS).
(c) The media - both electronic and print is largely blamed for the increase in soft porn advertising. The Code of Ethics formulated in 1983 for Rupavahini is completely violated. Negative and vulgar projection of the female image in advertisements and teledramas undermines the continuous efforts of NGOs to improve the dignity and positive image of women. Semi-nudity passing off for fashion in fashion pages of national newspapers has horrified readers and hurt the sensitivity of Muslim women friends, as reported to the writer.
(d) Encouragement of nihilist youth culture and over exposure of the young to media publicity. Public performances by youths at youth galas. Valentine Day galas, and other new fangled vulgar youth festivities. In some instances these have gone beyond the limits of public decency and moral standards. The outrageous game in a hotel, where sweet chocolate drip applied on the female body had to be licked by the male partner, starting from bottom upwards, on Valentine's Day last year. What kind of game for school youth?
(e) Abusive use of drugs and alcohol freely available in urban and rural areas is cause-related to increasing violence. Kurunegala, Ratnapura and Matara are high on the list. It has disrupted family life, brought misery and trauma to schoolchildren, affected school performance, impaired health, increased suicides, eroded value systems, and encouraged violence.
(f) The new image of self-importance, growing within the "open economy". With this grows the ego, the acquisitive culture, competition with a vengeance to outdo neighbour, friend and relatives. Altercations and rifts have commonly resulted in unpardonable types of violence leading to murder and other forms of grievous hurt.
(g) Reluctance of women victims to report violence, for fear of repercussions. This creates a vicious circle and re-cycles increased violence. In work places sexual harassment is not reported. Unwelcome behaviour of employer to employee violates the employees integrity, efficiency and productivity. In Sweden, it is a punishable offence made more rigorous by the recent Act of 1998.
(h) Modern technology and reproductive health have also impinged on the problem of violence. Although technology has provided favourable choices for women it has also resulted in infanticide, suicides, abortions, causing much psychological violence and crime.
(i) "Night Violence", a new phenomenon in rural areas is experienced by war widows, and other widows, single parents, divorcees and others. Women in Anuradhapura have reported threats of violence at night, as well as actual violence where men trespass their homes to make demands for sex. Many rural women confided that "television programmes do spoil our men and our children in particular. Love-making training is not necessary" (translation).
(j) Lack of awareness of one's rights and non-availability of welfare relief centres. Paucity of information, lack of advice and guidance by parents to children (working parents in particular).
The socialisation process in remote rural villages has burdened the women and girl children to a life of martyrdom. Domestic violence is borne for the sake of peace in the home or for the sake of "Karma". New initiatives need to be harnessed to combat violence and to convince women and men of the "humanness" in human rights.
(k) Soft porn advertising in the print and electronic media, fashion page focus on nudity in varying degree creates a negative image of women. Over 70% of TV programmes focus on sex and violence and indignity of youth behaviour.
The role of NCW
The NCW mandate, is to implement the provisions of the Women's Charter. Its functions and powers are for the purpose of examining progress, monitoring achievement of its objectives, acting as an advisory body on matters relating to the status of women and those matters referred by the Minister to the Committee for its consideration. It can scrutinise complaints of gender discrimination, complaints reviolation of provisions in the Women's Charter and channel complaints to administrative authorities, governmental and non-governmental, for redress, or mediation services.
The Women's Charter is a declaratory document and provides no mandate for investigation and punitive measures. NCW has visited the districts and identified several violence vulnerable sectors. It still needs to collate more data, and information. Often public policy fails to achieve professed objectives due to paucity of factual information.
A reliable data base on all sectors is absolutely necessary. It is an ongoing task. Combating VAW is no easy task for any government. It is increasingly felt that the responsibilities of civil society need to go hand in hand with responsibilities of the state.
In this area the support of women activists and women's organisations and other NGOs is invaluable.
There seems no apparent lack of legislation. The Penal Code Amendments of 1995 after a lapse of nearly one and a half centuries have introduced rigorous penalties for perpetrators of rape and incest, and given recognition to a new offence such as sexual harassment.
Non - bailable offenses, 7-20 years imprisonment for rape are new provisions and 5 years for sexual harassment recognised the seriousness and the increasing incidence of these crimes. Fighting rape, by amending the laws has been the commonest measure in several countries such as India, Pakistan, China, Japan, Australia and other countries.
Though salutary laws, legal reforms have been effected, there is a common view that the ad hock nature of laws and lack of permanent mechanisms for effective implementation are a great drawback. Also, that an umbrella type of mechanism should bring together the different strands of activity, impart coherence and co-ordination to what is now being done in compartmentalised units. The collective involvement of the public and private sectors and the NGO community is an imperative intervention for speedy action and effective results. NCW is presently working towards this.
The NCW together with the Ministry of Women's Affairs trusts in the need for preventive and protective aspects as well. At present, to combat violence a few structures are in place.
(a) "Diri Piyasa" - shelters for violence, a concept of the Prime Minister introduced as an election pledge, has taken off the ground. Six such centres where violence is predominant have been established in - Kurunegala, Vavuniya, Moneragala, Walapone - (Nuwara Eliya), Kandana, Colombo. The preventive and curative aspects are emphasised.
The number of centres will increase in due course. These bodies provide counselling services at the centres, legal services, police and medical services. The 1st statement made by a victim to "diri Piyasa" is recognised by the police for the process of investigation or redress. This is a base support not practised before and a great stride forward.
(b) The Women's Bureau of the Women's Affairs Ministry, similar to "diri Piyasa" carries out counselling services in several centres in the districts. Awareness raising to prevent the occurrence of violence has been carried out extensively, in addition to providing economic empowerment to women creating avenues for self-employment, and provision of loans from a Revolving Loan Fund.
(c) The national committee on Women acts on its mandate to carry out conciliation and mediation in respect of incidents of violence, gender discrimination and other near infringement of rights at its Gender Complaints Unit.
The Complaints Unit in NCW at present receives several complainants daily. Awareness raising programmes, workshops on VAW, human rights, and gender awareness programmes to effect attitudinal and behaviourial changes especially at police level are being carried out but have a long way to go. In urban and rural areas the process of empowerment continues to give substantial gains to women.
(d) Yet another election pledge to be implemented is new legislation to ensure and promote the rights of women.
An epoch-making piece of legislation is to be introduced in parliament in the near future. The NCW, under a new structure will be empowered to investigate complaints of near infringement or infringement of women's rights. It shall enjoy wide powers to advise the Government on issues of concern to women, formulate legislative, proposals, administrative directives, appoint a Gender Impact Committee, and ombudsmen, formulate a national plan to promote the advancement of the rights of women, monitor compliance with international conventions, declarations, etc.
It shall also make provision for not less than 25% political representation for women in political party candidates lists. Wider women's representation at the highest and lowest decision-making bodies shall be promoted within political parties. The new proposals still in conceptual form, shall provide measures to resolve knotty questions and demands made by women leaders in Sri Lanka for near half a century.
(e) The socialisation process of the girl child has imposed a heritage of psychological violence and mental trauma on a large majority of girl children. In Sri Lanka, especially in the rural areas women easily resign themselves to a life of martyrdom or attribute their sufferings to "Karma". Others who wish for peace at home at any cost would avoid family confrontations temporarily. A period of "tolerance saturation" often transform women to resort to violence causing grievous hurt or murder. prison statistics show an increase in the category of women victims remanded under "grievous hurt'.
(f) Lack of awareness of rights and an obstinate approach to understanding the "human" in human rights fortify the bulwark of male patriarchy. Laws alone will not effect attitudinal change nor will punitive measures. Increased understanding supported by dissemination of information and eliminating the obvious root causes of violence may push for a downward trend. Sustainable efforts by the State and non-State agencies working together could make a difference.
Several intervention measures to eliminate VAW as set out in the Convention on the Elimination of Violence Against Women are being implemented by NCW and by other units of the Ministry side by side with Women NGO's.
(a) the proposed Women's Bill shall contain effective intervention mechanisms to combat VAW and the infringement or near infringement of human rights of women.
(b) A national plan to eliminate violence against women in the short-term and long-term is receiving attention.
(c) Awareness raising and training, seminars and workshops and research are receiving attention. These are being implemented to promote fresh initiatives and effective practical measures.
(d) Provision of "diri Piyasa" counselling centres, legal and welfare services for women victims of violence have commenced. These are being further extended to other districts.
(e) Re-formulation of educational curricula, Code of Ethics for media to eliminate prejudices have yet to be adequately addressed. Collation of statistics on VAW has proved to be inadequate.
Among these matters, the NCW is aware of other primary obligations to meet the needs of demanding changes, especially in relation to the peace process, addressing humanitarian concerns, social repercussions caused by the conflict in the North and East and its impact on women and children. All these require sustained efforts and practicable initiatives within a realistic environment. Yet another impediment to be dealt with seriously is the lack of adequate budgetary provisions to carry out the enormous programme of activities, so urgently needed.
source :- dailynews