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I Don’t Feel Safe: I Am A Woman

It’s 4 am and I am standing there at the Pettah bus stand waiting for a friend,  to load the Kandy Bus to head off for an outreach program in a few local schools in Matale.

I am stripped naked right there  by dozens of glaring eyes . Every man. Literally EVERY man who passed by decided to stare at me hungrily top to bottom and back. Some winking and some extending suggestive glances. I stared down – Just to remind myself that I was wearing just a  T-shirt and a Normal pair of jeans.

Why ? Simply because I am a woman.

In some corner of this country a woman just like myself is being whistled at, groped, touched or stared at as we breathe.
Social media went into a wild frenzy about the whole issue of dress and how it incites men. I fail to realize why a man can comfortably walk around in the streets of Colombo  in a pair of shorts and a skinny but a girl in that very same attire will be considered – scandalously dressed and a public target for sexual advances. Technically the argument is that women are required to cover up every inch of skin just so that certain men can contain their sexual yearnings. In other words we are paralleling men to a group of cannibals with zero self-control.

Coming from a patriarchal culture our society has coined many fallacies surrounding Gender Based Violence ( GBV)  especially with regards to rape :

Myth 1 : Good Looking women , who behave scandalously get raped.

Myth 2 : Revealing clothes incite rape.

Myth 3 : One usually gets raped or molested  by a stranger in an unknown dark alley

Myth 4 : Domestic Violence is a private matter

Myth 5 : And if you ignore – harassment will magically go away.

In 2012 , a young girl aged just 7 was found dead in the Kirulapona canal. Raped by her own uncle for a period of a month in the safety of her own home. Was the little girl dressed scandalously? Wore revealing clothing? Incited rape? Absolutely Not!

This is just one among the 1750 cases of CHILD rape alone, reported in the year 2012 ( as revealed in parliament that year)

What needs to be done ? Just two key steps to start off with – 

  1. The  Sri Lankan Education System lacks a comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health curriculum.  The bit that’s there is  confined to just a single unit of the Grade 10 and 11 Health and Physical Education syllabus .  Yet this too is technically flawed and contains just one scanty paragraph on Gender Based Violence. And that too is skipped off or ignored by the majority of our teachers ( Simply because they aren’t provided with the competency needed  to teach such material)

We are so hell bent on teaching students everything from History to Entrepreneurship to ICT but we choose to forget that in Sri Lanka women are vulnerable and a late night at work could mean rape. We refuse to accept that 6 out of 10 Sri Lankan women will face Domestic Violence in their life time. We turn a blind eye to the fact that Incest is soaring within the comfort of our own homes. The system is too comfortable in this utopia to even think of utilizing Education to create an attitudinal shift in our next generation. A shift to a society that respects and protects. A society that is aware and in control.

In a majority of cases of rape and child abuse,  the gruesome aftermath could have been avoided if the victim was  empowered with the necessary knowledge, skills and the guts to say NO. In most cases the victims are brain washed to believe that what is being done to them is perfectly normal.

The point is that every perpetrator and Victim would pass through some form of formal education during their life time – which means that if employed properly our formal education system has an invaluable untapped ability to prevent the creation of either a victim or a perpetrator.

  1. Secondly we don’t just need stronger laws and more support services but increased awareness of the ones that are already in place. Investments have been made, but not a soul is aware of them. Hence, absolutely no use of them is made. For example there is non-existent publicity of the 1929 ( National Child Protection Authority ) and 1938 ( Exclusively for issues faced by women)

What our society and system needs now – is a much recommended reality check. Followed by hands-on action and an understanding that we all have a role to play.

Photo Credit: We Heart It