Sri Lanka can be proud to state that it has one of the highest female literacy and education rates in the world, but this has not necessarily translated into a society that is necessarily safe for women. A study conducted in 2017 indicated that 90% of women and girls in Sri Lanka have been sexually harassed on buses and trains at least once in their lifetime and over 50% say they have experienced violence on a regular basis.
A report by the United Nations reports that violence against women is widespread and underreported in Sri Lanka. Many reasons have been attributed to this prevalence including, lack of adequate legislation, extreme delays in the investigation of cases, and very low conviction rates of perpetrators. Although the National Plan of Action on Sex and Gender Based Violence (2016-2020) zero-tolerance principle was well intended, accountability is still misplaced.
As a Sri Lankan, I propose that a practical prevention strategy be developed and deployed with urgency that is focused on improving the safety of women in Sri Lanka. The new strategy should involve a government led campaign that includes developing a national mechanism for systemic data collection on gender-based violence; evidence based early interventions, such as school programs to address gender attitudes; and finally establishing an Independent Commission for Women to ensure a sustained and methodical effort to improve outcomes.
There are increasing studies that show there is a strong link between state security and the security of women – that is the sustainability of Sri Lanka’s peace can be predicted by how well it treats its women. Clearly this is an issue that has significant health, social, economic and cultural consequences.
Sri Lanka has so much to offer as a country, but as a state it has a duty to afford all its people – regardless of their gender – a safe community to live and prosper.
~ V Dissanayake