Silent tears and violence against women | Sunday Observer

Silent tears and violence against women

I remember.

A face lined with age, worry and shame. Silent tears, streaming down. A body, thin and frail. Laying at the gate. With no strength, even to stand just to open it and enter. A teacher by profession - who singlehandedly raised a son and a daughter into adulthood after the demise of her husband. Beaten, kicked out and dragged by hair up to the main road – by the very person whom she raised with such love and care. She was my neighbour.

Sobbing uncontrollably. Facing a dilemma. Revealing the secret which haunted and controlled all her adult life. Saying that she lived for revenge. To show the uncle whom she used to trust and adore, the perpetrator of her rape; that she could get on with life better than he did. Crying she doesn’t know what to do with her life now that he is no more. Weeping that she had failed, messed up her life utterly. She was my friend.

A wary face and tearful eyes. With a pre-schooler’s persistent demand to tell him where they were going. A bag full of clothes and a bottle of water in hand. Going back home to her mother. Thrown out of the house. After her husband from a different province got to know that she was raped and lived together for a few weeks with the perpetrator who came in the guise of a saviour to help her get a ‘government’ job. She is a woman befriended recently in a bus.

Silent. No visits, calls, mail or messages for months. Turning up on the doorstep early morning – all black and blue. Reasoning why she has to go back to a place she loathes - her two little daughters. She is my friend.

Speaking in hushed notes. Ears alert all the time. Anxiety weighing on her face as she speaks. Never taking a minute for rest - washing, cleaning, cooking, taking out the garbage. Preparing a special dinner, after returning from a hard day’s work. Being berated, belittled, bullied at the dinner table in front of a friend by the very person whom she shares her life with. She is my friend as well.


They are all around me. Just one individual. And I, a ‘mere drop’ in the ocean of humanity - plead, cajole, counsel, seek and seethe. Over the shushing, minimising, negating, blame shifting, white washing. The attitude of acceptance and shame. And the general apathy of the society ...

“Leave No One Behind” is this year’s theme to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The day November 25, is in honour of 3 political activists, Mirabal sisters of the Dominican Republic, who were brutally assassinated on orders of the ruler Rafael Trujillo, in 1960. Activists over the globe had been marking the day since 1981. After adopting the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the United Nations General Assembly in 1999, designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Violence against women and girls is recognized as one of the most “widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations” in the world. Statistics show us its global prevalence. In a WHO reports that one in every three women experience violence (physical and/or sexual) by an intimate partner within their lifetime.

The same data had revealed that while one in every three women victims of intentional homicide were “killed by an intimate partner or family member,” when it comes to male victims the rate goes down to one in 20.

It seems that the most dangerous place for women to be – is their own homes. Violence, especially domestic violence perpetrated by an intimate partner or a family member has serious repercussions not only on ones family, but upon the whole gamut of society. The socio-economic costs are huge. Children who grow up in families where there is violence, may suffer emotional and behavioural disturbances and as adults may themselves become either perpetrators (male children) or victims (female children). The victims may develop depression, post-traumatic stress and other anxiety disorders, sleep difficulties, eating disorders, other personality disorders and so on. They may attempt or commit suicide.

Sexual purity

The multifarious aspects of violence against women (VAW) has gained considerable global visibility since the Beijing Platform for Action, in 1995. Recognizing this factor, the world has progressed setting standards and creating preventive and redress measures.

According to WHO, gender inequality and norms on the acceptability are a root cause of violence against women. Societal beliefs in family honour and sexual purity; ideologies of male sexual entitlement and weak legal sanctions for sexual violence exacerbates the use of physical and/or sexual violence against women.

Sri Lanka, with a patriarchal society has recognized VAW as a prevalent issue in the country. It is one of the first in South Asia to ratify the ‘foremost UN international standard on women’, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in the year 1981. It a signatory to the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, adopted in 1993. The Women’s Charter passed in 1993; National Action Plan for Women in 1996; amendments to the Penal Code sections 345 (sexual harassment) of 1995, 364 (rape) and 364A (incest); and Prevention of Domestic Violence Act 34 of 2005 (PDVA) were progressive steps in acknowledging and addressing the issue.

Though Sri Lanka already has “adequate legislative measures, the problem is in the implementing,” says Dinushika Dissanayake, Executive Director, Law and Society Trust. When it comes to VAW physical and/or sexual societal norms takes the edge, she opines. Women tend to hide the abuse due to shame attached to reporting such incidents. Further more, the measure of doubt, minimizing the offence, mediation of complaints at police stations when it comes to domestic violence are some other reasons for women’s silent acceptance of abuse.

Widespread impunity

According to recent research publications Sri Lanka seem to have taken more than a few steps back in the elimination of VAW and executing legislation. “The years of armed conflict and the post armed conflict years in particular have seen the growing incidence of violence against women including in the areas affected by conflict. Human rights groups and some women’s groups have consistently drawn attention to widespread impunity. They refer to post 2009 changes regarding law enforcement as undermining their professionalism and independence alleging politicization in the administration of criminal justice,” notes the Review of the Implementation of Beijing Platform for Action – Sri Lanka 1995 - 2014. The Lawyers for Human Rights and Development, claim that “Since 2008, offenders of sexual violence against women and children have been released on suspended jail sentences,” (Justice Suspended – A study on suspended sentences for sexual offenders)

According to Women in Need (WIN), observing 10 domestic violence cases in 5 districts, where an ‘interim protection order’ (IPO) the only piece of legislation that provides victims immediate relief from the perpetrator under the PDVA was applied for; the “law’s implementation is subject to the discretion of individual judges. This concept negates the entire purpose of the rule of law and the PDVA,” registers a recent report. In the year 2016, WIN has counselled about 20,000 women and girls. They had registered approx 7500 new clients for legal advice, and made 6000 court visits. Among these had been 1638 cases of physical and sexual abuse; 3187 cases of psychological abuse; 147 cases of child abuse and 15 cases of rape. In the first 3 quarters of 2017, the number of cases has increased to 1723 cases of physical and sexual abuse and 3712 cases of psychological abuse. The organization had been receiving an increasing number of cyber harassment complaints in 2017.

“The problem is that the type of violence now seems to be more brutal and gruesome, than say 15 years ago. Those days it was a slap and a black eye but now, the victims had lost limbs or even their life,” comments Savithri Wijesekera; Executive Director, WIN. Over the years there is an increased number of victims seeking help from different ethnic groups. Women usually bear up 3 to 5 years before they even visit an organization such as WIN, she says. Stigma, financial vulnerability, attitude of the society toward divorce are some of the reasons preventing women seeking help where physical and sexual violence are concerned.

To alleviate VAW, mutual respect, the right kind of gender sensitization and awareness of mothers of the evolving social norms play a great role, according to Wijesekera. “Culturally when you bring up children you expect a girl to listen, to tolerate and to be patient and instill such values. However, it is not expected from a boy. You don’t tell your son to always listen; that your wife may be right. No. A mother won’t say that. These are things that have been going on traditionally. However, now that the women are getting more independent and educated but men having the same expectations of doing all the work and tending to them as well, the clash happens,” she opines.

Media, could play a major role in eliminating VAW. Though media needs to report to create awareness of the incidence of VAW, sensationalism and the use of gender discriminatory language should be removed. Balanced reporting could bring about changes in societal attitudes and values and may pave way to mitigate the issue, opines Sepali Kottegoda former Executive Director, Women and Media Collective. Identifying gaps in the application of existing legislation; awareness raising and positive male participation are some other the ways to overcome the crisis.

Violence is not ‘inevitable’. When it comes to violence based solely on gender, it is more so. Therefore, prevention and protection is not only possible but essential. To protect the victims of VAW and to prevent violence is the responsibility of the whole of humanity.