Members of the Head Table. From left: MenEngage Alliance Gender Equality and Conflict Sensitivity Specialist Velusamy Weerasingham, National Committee on Women Chairperson Swarna Sumanasekara, Forum Against GBV Co-Chair and UNFPA Representative in Sri Lanka Ritsu Nacken, National Forum Against GBV Co-Chair and OXFAM Sri Lanka Country Director Bojan Kolundzija, John Keells Holdings Head of Operations and CSR Carmeline Jayasuriya, and Women In Need Project Coordinator and Attorney-at -Law Mariam Wadood.
Street drama performance on addressing violence against women by Women In Need
More than one-third of women have faced gender-based violence at some point of their life, which makes this one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. Yet, it remains a topic that is surrounded by secrecy, stigma and taboo, due to societal denial. When the human right to live free of violence is sacrificed, we perpetuate further violence, mental trauma, and vulnerability upon individuals and society as a whole.
Women and girls are more vulnerable during humanitarian crises, and this is why in the aftermath of the Tsunami, Sri Lanka established the National Forum Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV). Co-chaired by UNFPA and OXFAM, the National Forum Against GBV is a collective of over 50 organisations representing Government, UN Agencies, national and international non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations, and individual experts in the field.
This year marks 15 years since the National Forum has been lobbying and advocating towards zero tolerance for gender-based violence in Sri Lanka. Commemorating this milestone, a press conference was held on the theme ‘United towards creating violence-free spaces for women and girls’, which highlighted the need for safer spaces at home, in the workplace, and on public transport.
The press conference coincided with the global campaign ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence’, which runs each year from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day.
Delivering the opening remarks, Nation Forum Against GBV Co-Chair and UNFPA Representative in Sri Lanka Ritsu Nacken said: “Women are held back by the consequences of gender-based violence. We must raise our voices and stand firmly against it, and ensure that there is appropriate policy action to put an end to it.
“Given the recent public discourse on the release of a murder convict, it further highlighted the brutality of such incidents which are very real and pertinent. While 15 years of continuous efforts of the National Forum have ensured that we’ve achieved a much safer Sri Lanka for women and girls, there is still a long way ahead of us before we truly achieve gender equality.”
National Forum Against GBV Co-Chair and OXFAM Sri Lanka Country Director Bojan Kolundzija added: “As the National Forum, we have continuously and consistently raised public awareness regarding the gravity of gender-based violence within Sri Lanka, and advocated for policy change. But there is much to be done. We must ensure a Sri Lanka where everyone can be held accountable for incidents of violence, regardless of whether it occurs at home, at work or on public transport, by triggering a societal shift in the perspective towards this issue.”
A pledge was signed by all members of the National Forum, recommitting its collective work towards ending all forms of gender-based violence in Sri Lanka.