Driving to an event organized by Care International last week I heard on radio that more women were affected by Gender Based Violence (GVB) and Gender Based Abuse (GVA) in Sri Lanka than they are by Malaria. Aptly titled Dignity for All the event was to mark a turning point in Care Int Sri Lanka’s BRIDGE project and establish their own achievements in relieving affected women in rural areas.
I’ve known all my life that us women are treated differently. Our society has made it easy to marginalise women. An attitude of servitude is created by the culture aided by misconceptions drawn by the various religions. The poor suffer the most, illiterate and backward they are often trapped in their communities. This was a week for awareness on GVB, I had been following up a campaign led by Women’s Media Collective, a forum for 16 days where women were able to voice their experiences, their concerns and tell the world what they wanted.
In my own speaches (to my kith and kin) I always say ‘Men and Women are born equal‘. The babies soon find out that they are treated differently, they absorb into this way of thinking…. and slowly but steadily they are groomed by their mothers and aunts to be what their mothers and aunts are …. giving a back seat to their own passions and yearnings they take on the role of faithful wife, loving mother and a bigger share of the burdens of adult life. Those who rebel against this age old system are naturally outcast. I think I’ve been a bit of both and have had conflict of interests…. should I take on the accepted role, or be different and make the Difference. One path is comfortable and the other is rough…
These are two poems written by the paticipants of SriLanka16Days forum, they ‘ve penned it beautifully perhaps to ‘get it off their chest’ or to ‘ignite a passion’ in fellow women… to work towards elliviating descrimination, abuse and violence on women. Let it not just pass you by, reflect on the words and relate to women affected and think of ways you could support them.
Skin & Bones
If I say ‘Violence’
You expect big revelations
And black eyes
A chipped tooth
A dislocated jaw
or tell-tale scars
You want the evidence
of a crime scene
blood on the dancefloor
smears on the bedroom sheets
Broken plates on the kitchenfloor
But she has none of that to display
Only a corpse buried inside
A momentary plea in her eyes
Now you see it, now you don’t
He never touched her skin and bones.
Father, have you ever felt mute?
Like the mute man whose dreams go unvoiced.
Like the daughter whose tears leave no trace on your ground.
Like the wife whose anguished pleas makes no sound.
Husband, have you ever felt afraid?
Of the one who holds your beating heart.
Because he has appointment to make it.
And yet he so casually breaks it.
Brother, have you ever felt betrayed?
Watching from the vacuous sidelines.
Heard child, Golden child, Boy child. Solid and uncut.
He for whom doors are open, she for who doors stay shut.
Son have you ever been called to sacrifice?
A vision, a voice, a dream.
For the celebrated role of mother.
The place of Sacrificial other.
At the Care Int event I learnt that women are not only victims, but also the change-makers who make a tremendous effort and difference in their communities. The project brought into light women who challenged their difficult situations and sort assistance to overcome them, rather than bowing down. One story from Batticaloa tell the tale of an abused wife, who lost her husband a few years ago and suddenly became the bread winner of her family of 5 (including 4 daughters) and how she learnt to set up and operate a road-side kiosk in order to support her household. Another story was of a young widow, who was shunned in her (Hindu) community – for the lost of her husband, who starts a small business weaving cane baskets, and how she earns her dignity back.
I was touched and impressed of the collaborative work done at village level. These will find some lasting solutions to persistant problems that exsist in rural communities. People at Care say it’s important to include men in these efforts so that they understand the problems. Some men spoke that morning, of their violent pasts and their ignorance. Care’s community projects had shown them the correct path, they claim. In order to create awareness at the grassroot level, Care used Forum Theartres: where the community participates in scripting their own plays, explaining their problems and solutions, thus educating themselves as well as the audience.
The best judge of whether or not a country is going to develop is how it treats its women. If it’s educating its girls, if women have equal rights, that country is going to move forward. But if women are oppressed and abused and illiterate, then they’re going to fall behind.