Seriously, almost every Sri Lankan woman I know has been harassed, masturbated at, or sexually assaulted. I’m not saying Sri Lanka’s a horribly rapey country, but we still have a ways to go on basic civility and respect. Sexual assault is much more prominent than you’d think, but let’s focus on sexual harassment here. I can say with some confidence that EVERY woman in Sri Lanka has been sexually harassed, be it on the street or in the mall or in public transport. Part of the problem is that other people stand by and don’t say anything. Thankfully, Sri Lanka Unites is doing something about it, starting today.
Why do I say EVERY woman? Well, I have never met a woman who hasn’t at least been hollered at on the street in an un-nice way (is there a nice way?). I have heard stories from my mother about the perverts who used to hang out outside her girls school. My sisters used to be harassed when they walked anywhere out of the house. This extends across class and creed. Politicians can be pervy as can priests. The rich as much as the poor (sometimes moreso, because the abuse of power for sex [as in office kukulas] is rampant and disgusting).
Are we as bad as India for what they innocuously call eve-teasing? No. But we’re not as good as China or, say, Singapore, not to mention the west. Sexual harassment and abuse is a social issue which pervades deep into the home, but we can start by ensuring some minimally social behavior in public and on the streets. And a lot of that is men AND women speaking up.
Anyways < /RANT >. Groups like Beyond Borders and now Sri Lanka Unites have been taking a stand on this issue, and something important is happening today. They’re assembling at Vihara Maha Devi park today (the 21st) at 1 o’clock for a briefing and to connect mentors with volunteers. The campaign itself starts on the 25th.
Chivalry is dead no longer! Young men in the city of Colombo decide that the time has come for them to stand up and promote the respectful treatment of women. They have decided that they will not turn the other way, they have decided that as young men they will S.H.O.W. values and principles that are not practiced or conveniently forgotten. They have decided that they will S.H.O.W. how a man ought to conduct himself, they will S.H.O.W. their mothers and sisters who have experienced harassment at the hands of other men, that they are different.
From June 25th to 30th in all bus routes in Colombo, students (from mostly boys schools) will board the buses according to a formulated plan and address the passengers in all three languages (Tamil, Sinhala, English): firstly, apologizing to all women for any incidents of harassment they may have encountered in the past, handing out leaflets highlighting the legal recourse available to women if they experience such treatment, making a general statement of the right of women to be treated respectfully and the men taking the responsibility to safeguard this right and the negative reflection on them, if they fail. These leaflets will also contain information regarding basic women’s rights and the actions that could be taken if one’s found violating them. (SLU blog)
It’s an interesting approach. I was at an event held by the Women & Media Collective and participants talked about the need to involve more men. Indeed, as long as these are seen as ‘women’s issues’ it’s easy to write them off, for men at least. Men (and boys) also need to take responsibility for ourselves, our behavior, each other, and out streets. In that way this is a good and productive campaign.
I continue to be impressed by the work of Sri Lanka Unites, Prashan De Visser and the whole SLU team. In other news, spelling harassment is hard.