As the Youth Advocacy Network, we don’t just advocate for rights. We do what we can to empower people lead better lives. This includes training, mentoring, and spreading awareness—all while having regular day jobs.
One of the projects our co-founder Sarah was recently involved in was to help combat sexual and gender-based violence in the plantation sector of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka already has a Domestic Violence Act, and is a signatory to multiple international machineries and mechanisms. Yet, there is a significantly higher amount of sexual abuse and violence in the plantation sector than in other urban regions.
Well, there are multiple reasons for this. However, to put it simply, some of the biggest factors are poverty and lack of education. The plantation workers have long been an exploited segment of disenfranchised people. Though they have basic rights now (like the right to vote, and being granted Sri Lankan citizenship), they still have long, hard battles. The daily wage system is especially problematic, in addition to being geographically isolated from basic and necessary infrastructure, and not being able to communicate fluently due to language barriers.
Over 31% of women in the estate sector are underweight, as are most of their children. The under five mortality rate is 33/1000 live births as opposed to the national figure of 11/1000 live births.
Additionally, women in the estate sector have extremely low knowledge of gender-based violence, sexually transmitted disease, and related healthcare services.
Alcoholism is rampant in the estates, especially among men. 40% of the estate sector families are drinkers, compared to the 17% in urban and rural areas. This in turn leads to violence in homes.
Estate employees live in line rooms—tiny lodgings with barely any ventilation. They also lack basic facilities. Numerically, only 66.3% have sanitary facilities, 11% has clean drinking water, and 68% of the homes are equipped with electricity.
According to the poverty headcount index in 2012/13, 8.8% of the estate sector families live below the poverty line. 18% of married women between the ages of 15-49 have never been to school.
What can be done to alleviate this?
Community members stated that gender-based violence can reduce if there were effective, and active systems in place. This includes strengthening the police system and enforcing the law properly, getting the support of estate managers in resolving community issues, and ensuring male involvement in discussions.
In addition to this, everyone from children upwards should be made aware of legal repercussions as well.
This includes collective discussions with all concerned authorities. To this end, we organised sessions with
- Public health midwives
- Public health inspectors
- Child development officers
- Women development officers
- Government Agents office staff
We covered topics ranging from sex and gender, forms of violence, the current situation in Sri Lanka, fatal and non-fatal outcomes of sexual and gender-based violence, laws and policies, how to respond, and more.
As a result
We can happily say that access to quality SGBV services for community members,
specifically, women and girls, has improved. There’s also an improvement with Government officers and authorities, in their service delivery
skills on SGBV. They have developed non-judgemental attitudes, especially in gender-responsive, rights-based approaches.
We did have several challenges; from being able to conduct sessions with the police, to getting permission, and developing a healthy relationship between the authorities and volunteers, especially in breaking the power-hierarchy. Not to mention it was also time consuming! However, we think we have managed to make this project sustainable, at least to a certain extent.
And we are definitely happy that we managed to help empower these communities, in a measurable way.