Government officials, non-governmental organisation (NGO) staff, workers and military personnel continue to exploit women in the North and East.
While domestic abuse and sexual violence or exploitation are problems across Sri Lanka, its higher prevalence in the north and east is a consequence of armed conflict and continued militarisation, exacerbated by the culture of sexual exploitation and harassment, intimidation and fear that now exists there, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report on Friday based on interviews conducted by the organisation .
Many women interviewed described routine exploitation by men in a range of positions: state officials, non-governmental organisation (NGO) staff, workers and military personnel. In return for providing help to find their loved ones or improve their economic status, men often demand sexual favours.
Women also report an increase in demand for sex work from men drawn to the provinces by post-war business opportunities. In other cases, facing physical and economic insecurity, some women heading households enter into short-term or informal sexual relationships in return for economic benefits or protection.
Women interviewed spoke of military personnel frequently trying to befriend women, visiting their homes and approaching them on the streets, which left them feeling vulnerable.
Gender based and sexual violence is reportedly very high in both provinces, though there is little detailed documentation.38 Community-based activists in all seven districts where this research was conducted said they had received complaints of sexual violence, including rape. The victims were reluctant to pursue legal cases, however, fearing reprisals and stigma.
Activists believe the cases reported to them are only the tip of the iceberg. Women’s groups are also working on incidents of domestic sexual abuse and violence, among them a significant number of incest cases.
Justice for sexual and gender crimes is rare: few cases are prosecuted, especially if the alleged perpetrator is in the security services, and even fewer end with convictions.
Court procedures are long and not gender sensitive; delays, the adversarial approach of lawyers and social stigma all combine to re-traumatise many victims and discourage others from seeking justice.
This contrasts starkly with the level of security women felt when they lived under the rule of the LTTE, which had strictly enforced prohibitions against sexual abuse.
Nearly every woman interviewed for this research spoke with regret of no longer be-ing free to walk safely at night, expressing contempt for social behaviours, such as the casual harassment of women, which they found degrading and disrespectful.
ICG says the injustices women have experienced and the pressures they continue to face are at the intersection of Sri Lanka’s most important post-war challenges and require urgent attention. Addressing these issues skillfully could reinvigorate the larger justice agenda and reaffirm that positive change is still possible. (Colombo Gazette)