ශ්රී ලංකාවේ ගබ්සා නීති ප්රතිසංස්කරණයට සහය දෙන්න | Support Abortion Reform in Sri Lanka

Originally published at http://www.resurj.org/node/223#Sri

ශ්රී ලංකාවේ දැනට ගර්භනී කාන්තාවකගේ ජීවිතය බේරා ගැනීම හැර වෙන කිසිම හේතුවකට ගබ්සාව නීතිමය නැහැ. මීට කලිනුත් ගබ්සාව සම්පූර්ණයෙන් නීත්යානුකූල කරන්න සහ අවම වශයෙන් නීති ලිහිල් කරන්න උත්සාහ දරා තිබෙනව. හැබැයි මේ ප්රයත්නයන් විවිධ හේතූන් නිසා අඩාල වුනා. දේශපාලන අභිප්‍රාය සහ කැපවීම මදි වීම සහ ආගමික නායකයින්ගේ බලපෑම, විශේෂයෙන්ම කතෝලික පල්ලියේ බලපෑම ප්‍රධාන කරුණු වෙනව.

ශ්රී ලංකාව ගබ්සා නීති සම්බන්ධයෙන් ලෝකයේ ඉතාමත් සීමාකාරී රටවල් ලැයිස්තුවේ ඉන්නව. මෙම ලැයිස්තුවට අයත් රටවල් බොහොමයක් අඩු ආදායම්ලාභී රටවල්. ශ්‍රී ලංකාව වැනි මධ්යම ආදායම්ලාභී රටක් ඇතුළත් වීම දුර්ලභ අවස්ථාවක් ලෙස සැලකෙනව. සමහර විට ඉස්සරහට ගිනස් වාර්තාවක් තියන්න පුලුවන් වෙයි කියල හිතෙනව වර්තා තියන්න අපේ දේශපාලන නායකයන්ට තියෙන කැක්කුම දැක්කම. දකුණු ආසියාව තුළ ශ්‍රී ලංකාව හොඳ සමාජ-ආර්ථික දර්ශක තියෙන රටක් වුණාට අපේ ගබ්සා නීතිය නේපාලය, ඉන්දියාව, පාකිස්ථානය සහ මාලදිවයින වැනි රටවල් සමග සංසන්දනය කරාම ගොඩක් පසුගාමී කියල පේනව.

ගිය මාසයේ සෞඛ්ය අමාත්යංශය විසින් ගබ්සා කිරීමේ නීතියට සංශෝධනයක් ඉදිරිපත් කරනු ලැබුවා. එය සම්මත වුනොත්, කාන්තාවන්ට අවස්ථා දෙකක දී ගර්භණීභාවය අවසන් කිරීමට ඉඩ ලැබෙනව: දරුණු කළල විකෘතිතා පිහිටන අවස්ථා වලදී සහ ස්ත්‍රී දූෂණයක ප්‍රතිඵලයක් ලෙස ගැබ් ගැනීමක් සිදු වූ අවස්ථාවකදී. මෙම සංශෝධනයේ සමහර දුර්වලතා තියෙනවා. අවුරුදූ ගණනාවක් තිස්සෙ කාන්තා අයිතිවාසිකම් ක්රියාකාරිනියන් විසින් ඉල්ලා සිටින ගබ්සාව සම්පූර්ණයෙන් නීතිමය කිරීමට වඩා මෙය බෙහෙවින් දුර්වල වෙන අතර මේ සංශෝධනය කාන්තාවන්ගේ තීරණ ගැනීමේ අයිතිය වටා කේන්ද්රගත වෙලා නැහැ (ව්යතිරේකයන් දෙකම සඳහා රජයේ රෝහල්වල විශේෂඥ වෛද්යවරුන්ගේ නිර්දේශය අවශ්ය වෙන අතර ස්ත්‍රී දූෂණ සම්බන්ධයෙන් පොලිස් මැදිහත් වීමත් අවද්ය වෙනවා). එහෙම වෙලත් මේ සංශෝධනයට වල කපන ආගමික නායකයින් වගේම ආගමික නායකයින්ට අදාළ නැති දේවල් වලට මැදිහත් වෙන්න ඉඩ සලසන දේශපාලනඥයින් දැක්කම විශාල කණගාටුවක් වගේම තරහකුත් දැනෙනව.

ශ්රී ලංකාව තුළ සෑම දිනකම ගබ්සා කිරීම් 700 කට අධික සංඛ්යාවක් සිදු වන අතර රටේ මාතෘ මරණ වලට තෙවැනි මූලික හේතුව වන්නේ අනාරක්ෂිත ගබ්සාවන්. මෙම නීති විරෝධී හා බොහෝ විට අනාරක්ෂිත ගබ්සාවන් වැඩියෙන්ම අවශ්ය වන්නේ විවාහක කාන්තාවන්ටයි (සමහර ගණනය කිරීම් අනුව 94%). ඔවුන් ගබ්සාවන් ලබා ගන්න ප්රධාන හේතුන් වන්නේ ආර්ථික අස්ථායීතාවයක් හා තවත් දරුවන් අවශ්ය නොවීමයි. ඉතින් බොහොම පැහැදිලිව තේරෙනව මේ යෝජිත සංශෝධන ඉතා විශාල ගැටලුවක් විසඳීම සඳහා පුංචි ආරම්භයක් පමණයි කියල. ගබ්සාව නීතිගත කිරීම ශ්රී ලංකාවේ කාන්තා අයිතිවාසිකම් සහ කාන්තාවන්ගේ ශාරීරික අඛණ්ඩතාවය සුරක්ෂිත කිරීමේ පරිපූර්ණ ක්රමෝපායක එක් අංගයක් පමණයි. පාසැල් තුළ සහ පිටත ළමයින්ට සහ තරුණ ප්‍රජාවට පරිපූර්ණ ලිංගික අධ්යාපනය ලබා දීම අත්යවශ්යයි (මෙය දැනට ඉතා මන්දගාමී ලෙස සිදු වෙනව). ඒ වගේම ලිංගික සහ ප්රජනන සෞඛ්ය සේවා අවශ්ය ඕනෑම කෙනෙකුට ඔවුන්ගේ වයස, ලිංගිකත්වය, ස්ත්රී පුරුෂභාවය, පංතිය, විවාහකභාවය වැනි කරුණු නොසලකා ලබා දීමත් එවන් ක්රමෝපායක අත්යවශ්ය අංගයක් වෙනව.

වෙනසක් දකින්නනම් අපි කොතැනකින් හෝ පටන් ගත යුතුයි. ශ්රී ලංකාවේ ගබ්සා නීතිය ලිහිල් කිරීමේ යෝජිත සංශෝධනය සඳහා සහාය දක්වන්න ඔබ කැමති නම් පහත සඳහන් පෙත්සම අත්සන් කර මේ අරගලයට ඔබේ හඬ එකතු කරන ලෙස ඉල්ලා සිටිමු.

English – https://goo.gl/forms/11pHbximkkROU6cy2
Sinhala – https://goo.gl/forms/e54Ia0OGl932A75R2
Tamil – https://goo.gl/forms/bZkqomVm4E8TRrBN2

Abortion is criminalized in Sri Lanka with one exception; to save the life of the woman. Several attempts have been made in the past to, if not decriminalize abortion, then to at least relax the law to include more exceptions. However, these attempts have been thwarted due to a lack of political will and the influence of religious leaders, especially the Catholic Church. Sri Lanka is included in the list of “most restrictive” countries when it comes to abortion law and “stands out as a rare exception being a middle income country (whereas the majority of  countries belonging to this list are low income ones)”. While Sri Lanka has good socio-economic indicators in South Asia, the country’s abortion law is trailing behind other South Asian countries like Nepal, India, Pakistan and the Maldives.

In August 2017, an amendment to the abortion law was proposed by the Ministry of Health which, if passed, will allow abortions in two instances: in the case of a foetus with lethal congenital malformation and when a woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape. While these amendments are a far cryfrom full decriminalization of abortion demanded by women’s rights activists in the country and are worryingly not centered around a woman’s choice (both exceptions are at the discretion of medical practitioners in state hospitals and in the case of rape, there is involvement of law enforcement too), it is deeply concerning to see religious leaders mobilizing to intervene with the passage of this amendment and the lack of political will from some quarters.

It is estimated that over 700 abortions happen in Sri Lanka each day and septic abortion is the third highest cause of maternal mortality in the country. A majority of these illegal, and often unsafe, abortions are performed on married women (94% by some estimates), their main reasons being economic instability and not wanting more children. Therefore it is apparent that the proposed amendments are just a starting point in addressing a much larger problem.  Decriminalizing abortion in Sri Lanka must be one component of a comprehensive strategy that protects women’s rights in Sri Lanka and champions women’s right to make decisions related to  their bodies. Such a strategy should include the introduction and implementation of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) for young people in and out of school (which is currently making extremely slow progress) as well as availability of quality sexual and reproductive health services, including contraception, that are provided non-judgmentally to anyone who wants  them.

Change must begin somewhere and we call on all supporters of women’s human rights to add their voice to this struggle by signing this petition in support of the proposed amendment to the relax abortion law in Sri Lanka.

English – https://goo.gl/forms/11pHbximkkROU6cy2
Sinhala – https://goo.gl/forms/e54Ia0OGl932A75R2
Tamil – https://goo.gl/forms/bZkqomVm4E8TRrBN2

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ගබ්සාව මානව අයිතිවාසිකමකි. Abortion is a human right.

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(Original image from https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10155530544305185)

ආරක්ෂිත හා නීත්යානුකූල ගබ්සාව සඳහා මානව අයිතිවාසිකම ගැන සටන වෙනුවන් මේ දවස්වල හඬනගන සහෘදයන් දැක්කම මගේ හිතට ලොකු හයියක් ආවා. ඔවුන් සමහරක් බෙදා හරින මේ පෝස්ටරයට මම සංශෝධන කිහිපයක් කරා. හේතුව අපේ මේ සටනේ මූලික හේතු මතක් කරගන්නයි.

ස්තී්ර දූෂණය, බාලවයස්කාර වීම, මාරාන්තික ආබාධ සහිත කලලයක් සහ ගැබිනි මවකගේ ජීවිතයට අනතුරුදායකත්වය වනි කරුණු ගබ්සාවට වලංගු හේතු සාධක තමයි. නමුත් කාන්තාවකට ගබ්සාවක් කරගන්න කොන්දේසි අවශ්ය විය යුතු නෑ. ශ්රී ලංකාවේ සහ ලෝකය පුරා ගබ්සා කිරීමට ලොකුම හේතුව වන්නේ අනවශ්ය ගැබ් ගැනීම්. අනවශ්ය වෙන්න හේතු මොනාද? ඉහත සඳහන් හේතු සාධකත් ඇතුලත් හැබැයි වඩාත් පොදු හේතු මෙසේය. ඇයට තවත් දරුවන් අවශ්ය නොවීම, ඇයට දරුවන් එක්කෙනෙක්වත් අවශ්ය නොවීම, ඇය තවත් ළමයෙකු සඳහා තාමත් සූදානම් නොවීම, ඇය ප්‍රථම දරුවා ලැබීමට තවමත් සූදානම් නොවීම, ඇයට ස්ථාවර සම්බන්ධතාවයක් නොතිබීම, ගැබ් ගැනීම ඇයගේ අධ්යාපනයට හෝ රැකියාවට බාධාවක් වීම හා මේ වගේ බොහෝ හේතු. මේවා පිටුපස බොහෝවිට මූල්යමය, චිත්තවේගාත්මක, ශාරීරික සාධක තියෙනව.

නිදසුනක් වශයෙන් ශ්රී ලංකාව තුළ සෑම දිනකම අවම වශයෙන් ගබ්සාවන් 700 ක් සිදු කරන බව ඇස්තමේන්තු කර තියෙන අතර නියම සංඛ්යාව මීටත් වැඩි බව ඇස්තමේන්තු කරනවා. ගබ්සාවන් ලබාගන්න කාන්තාවන්ගෙන් බහුතරයක් විවාහකයි (සමහර ඇස්තමේන්තු අනුව 94% ක පමණ). ඔවුන් ගබ්සා කරගන්න ප්රධාන හේතු ආර්ථික අස්ථායීතාවය සහ තවත් දරුවන්ට අවශ්ය නොවීම. ලංකාවේ මේ හේතුවලට ගබ්සා කිරීම නීති විරෝධී නිසා අනාරක්ෂිත ගබ්සා සිදු වෙනව. අනාරක්ෂිත ගබ්සා මාතෘ මරණවලට දායක වන සාධකයක්. ඉහළ ආදායම් ලබන ගෘහ ඒකකවල කාන්තාවන්ට ඔවුන්ගේ ගැබ්ගැනීම් ආරක්ෂිත (නමුත් නීතිවිරෝධී) ආකාරයෙන් අවසන් කරන්න හැකියාව සහ මුදල් තියෙනව. හැබයි මධ්යම සහ අඩු ආදායම්ලාභී ගෘහස්ථයන්ගෙන් කාන්තාවන් බොහෝ දෙනෙක්ට වෙන්නෙ අනාරක්ෂිත සහ නීති විරෝධී ගබ්සා කරගන්න. ඒවායින් බොහෝ විට මරණය හෝ දිගුකාලීන ආබාධිත තත්වයන් ඇති වෙනව. ගබ්සාව නීත්යානුකූල කලොත් ඔනෑම කාන්තාවකට අනවශ්ය ගැබ්ගැනීමක් හේතු සහ කොන්දේසි රහිතව නීත්යානුකූලව, ආරක්ෂිතව හා දැරිය හැකි මිලකට කර ගත හැකි වෙයි.

කෙටියෙන් කිව්වොත් ගබ්සාවක් කරගන්න අවශ්ය එකම හේතුව අනවශ්ය ගැබ් ගැනීමක්. ගබ්සාවක් කිරීමේ තීරණය ගත යුත්තේ ගැබ්ගත් කාන්තාව පමණක් හෝ ඇය විසින් අදාළයි කියා සිතන කෙනෙකුත් සමග විතරයි. වෙන කිසිම කෙනෙක්ගේ අනුමැතිය අවශ්ය නොවිය යුතුයි. ගබ්සාව නීතිගත කලා කියල හැම කාන්තාවකටම ගබ්සා ලබාගන්න අවශ්ය වෙන්නෙ නෑ. අවම වශයෙන් ගබ්සාව සමග එකඟ වෙන්න ඕනෙවත් නෑ (ආගමික විශ්වාසයන්, සදාචාරආත්මක පදනම් වගේ හේතු මත). ගබ්සාව නීතිගත කරන්නේ ගබ්සාවක් අවශ්ය ඕනෑම කෙනෙකුට එය කොන්දේසි විරහිතව තෝරාගන්න ලැබීමයි. අපි එම තෝරා ගැනීමේ සහ තීරණ ගැනීමේ අයිතිය වෙනුවෙන් තමයි හඬ නගන්නේ.

These past few days it’s felt truly encouraging to feel less alone in this struggle for safe and legal abortion. More allies are speaking up and taking action. This is a poster that has been circulating among such allies and I made a few edits to remind ourselves what it is we are fighting for. Rape, being a minor, foetus with lethal congenital malformation and danger to a pregnant woman’s life are all valid reasons to abort a foetus. But a woman should not need to “make a case” for why she needs an abortion. In Sri Lanka and all over the world, the reason women want the right and the choice to have an abortion is because a pregnancy is unwanted. Reasons? They could be any of those mentioned above but most often it’s because; she doesn’t want more children, she doesn’t want any children, she’s not ready for another child, she’s not ready for her first child, she’s not in a stable relationship, a pregnancy would interfere with her education or employment and many such reasons, most often based on financial, emotional and physical factors.

For an example, in Sri Lanka it is estimated that at least 700 abortions are performed each day (the actual figures are estimated to be much higher). Majority of women who undergo abortions are married (a staggering 94% by some estimates) and the main reasons for abortion are economic instability and not wanting more children. Since abortion is not legal in Sri Lanka for these reasons, women resort to illegal and often unsafe abortion. Unsafe abortion is a contributing factor to maternal deaths in Sri Lanka because while women from higher income households often have access and money to terminate their pregnancies in safe (but illegal) ways, women from middle and lower income households end up going to “backdoor abortionists”, often resulting in death or lifelong disabilities. Decriminalizing abortion would mean the women who want to abort unwanted pregnancies (for whatever reason(s)) can access them legally, safely and in an affordable and unstigmatized way.

The bottomline is, a woman should not have to list reasons why she wants an abortion and most definitely doesn’t need approval or “sign off” from anyone she doesn’t want involved in the decision. Decriminalizing abortion doesn’t mean anyone is then compelled to have an abortion or even be pro-abortion, should it be against their religious beliefs, morals, etc. Decriminalizing abortion means anyone has an unconditional CHOICE to have an abortion if they want one. We are fighting for the right to have that choice.

What do women’s rights have to do with the SDGs and the Internet?

Short answer, everything

An abridged version of this was originally published at http://www.resurj.org/blog/what-do-women%E2%80%99s-rights-have-do-sdgs-and-internet

I was recently at the Sri Lankan Internet Governance Forum (IGF) where she spoke on a panel that discussed the linkages between the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Internet. Her intervention was framed around two questions.

  1. Technology and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have been recognized as major drivers for achieving sustainable development and achieving targets across the SDGs. How are women and girls placed in this?
  1. How do we ensure that women, girls, and other marginalized groups are not left behind in achieving the SDGs, including the technology targets and indicators?

Statistics show that while the digital divide is gradually closing (though penetration rates are still very low in developing and least developed countries), the gender gap in access to the Internet is getting wider. The global Internet user gender gap grew from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016. This means that as Internet penetration increases in countries, it is mostly men’s access that is increasing while the number of women who have no or limited access remains the same. It is important that we investigate some of the reasons behind this widening gender gap.

Women are not a homogenous group and our access to technology is also affected by a number of other factors such as age, class, caste, race, ethnicity, income, culture, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, abilities, urban or rural locality, etc. Therefore, we have to overcome multiple discriminations in order to gain access. These include, but are not limited to, the high cost of devices, the high cost of connectivity, lack of infrastructure, cultural and religious restrictions, geographical location, language barriers, etc.

Even when we overcome those barriers, often women and girls’ increased access to the Internet is directly proportional the increase of violence against women online. Many a time, rather than address the structural causes of violence, the possibility of violence is used as a reason to restrict women and girls’ access to the Internet and censor their freedom of expression and right to bodily integrity. Or, as we’ve seen in other countries in our region, laws that purportedly address cyber crime are put in place to grant the State sweeping powers to restrict people’s, and especially women’s, right to information, freedom of expression, sexuality, sexual rights, right to bodily integrity, etc.

Therefore while the Internet and ICTs may hold a lot of potential to achieve sustainable development, we need to acknowledge that unless structural inequalities are acknowledged and addressed, women as well as other marginalized groups are not going to reap equal benefits that are truly transformative. It is also important that we don’t put all our eggs in the ICTs basket. Instead, we should incorporate a wide definition of technology that is “not only machines and equipment, but also the skills, abilities, knowledge, systems and processes necessary to make things happen” which includes technology that is traditional, indigenous, frugal, etc.

It is time we expand the discourse around Internet governance to move “beyond the narrow subjects of protocols, names and numbers into areas related to social impact and rights”. We have to disrupt the idea that the Internet is neutral and acknowledge that the Internet and Internet governance can impact different groups of people in different ways. As this discourse expands, it is important that forums such as these are truly multi-stakeholder, not just in terms of participation but in terms of the topics of discussion and panellists. This includes a feminist discourse on the Internet, women’s rights and issues related to gender. While we discuss these issues in thematic forums such as the Women’s IGF, it is also crucial that we integrate them into more general discussions without treating them as issues that should only be discussed by women among women.

If the SDGs are going to use ICTs as a vehicle to achieve the goals then we need to use an intersectional and multi-pronged approach to ensure that women, girls and other marginalized groups are not left behind.

So, what would that look like?

Reform national ICT Policies

There is no doubt that policies, especially national ICT policies that are often gender neutral, would exclude people unless the most marginalized people are put at the center of our policies. For this, national gender and ICT policies and broadband strategies must be developed cohesively and with proper integration of issues. One of the ways this can happen effectively is by including women in ICT policymaking and decision-making. For an example, the Alliance for the Affordable Internet has been working to ensure that women’s organizations are actively involved in the development of broadband strategies and ICT policy agendas and implementation.

Collect gender and sex disaggregated data

Some of the indicators on SDG targets related to technology require sex disaggregated data and it is critical that we ensure that more indicators collect gender and sex disaggregated data. For an example, data for indicator 17.8.1 shown below needs to be gendered if we are to determine whether means of implementing the SDGs are accessible to women. As mentioned before, tThis requires the commitment of those who have a stake in Internet governance to view the Internet as a non-neutral space with social impact as well as financial commitment to collect such data. The IGF Best Practice Forum (BPF) on Gender in 2016 recommended that “nationally representative and gender-disaggregated data be gathered in a consistent and rigorous manner to reach a better understanding of the factors shaping women’s access to and ability to benefit from meaningful Internet access in diverse contexts”.

5.b Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women

 

5.b.1 Proportion of individuals who own a mobile telephone, by sex

 

17.8 Fully operationalize the technology bank and science, technology and innovation capacity-building mechanism for least developed countries by 2017 and enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology 17.8.1 Proportion of individuals using the Internet

Capacity building and awareness-raising

Even when infrastructure and affordable access is in place, women and girls’ access to the Internet is hindered by other factors such as gender roles, gender stereotypes, and cultural and religious beliefs. Understanding this would enable institutions such as the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) of Sri Lanka to not just provide infrastructure, devices and connectivity but to also work with communities, women’s rights activists, educators and others to carry out awareness raising around women and girls’ right to access the Internet in a meaningful way.

Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) programmes, both in and out of school, need to incorporate new challenges and violence as well as new avenues for pleasure, relationships and expression that girls (and boys) have access to on the Internet and give them the necessary skills and knowledge to use and navigate the Internet securely and to have control over their privacy. Instead of restricting access, we need to give them agency because the former just means they will find access elsewhere without the skills and knowledge about security.

Making the SDGs enforceable

With no accountability mechanism to ensure that the ambitious language and goals of the SDGs are actually implemented at the national level, it is important that we look to existing normative frameworks that commit States to, explicitly or implicitly, take action.

As IPPF mentions, “Many of the goals and targets correspond to essential dimensions of states’ human rights commitments, as outlined in international human rights treaties, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), as well as other international and regional instruments and documents relating to human rights.”

Meaningful access

When we talk about access, what kind of access are we talking about? The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) defines meaningful Internet access to “be construed as pervasive, affordable connection (of sufficient quality and speed) to the Internet in a manner that enables the user to potentially benefit from Internet use including to participate in the public sphere, exercise human rights, access and create relevant content, engage with people and information for development and well-being, etc.; irrespective of the means of such access (i.e. whether via a mobile or other device; whether through private ownership of a device or using a public access facility like a library).” Therefore discussions on access in Internet governance as well as among ICT policymakers have to incorporate more nuances.

In conclusion, it is evident that if the SDGs are to be transformative for all people, then it is imperative that the structural inequalities women and girls face in accessing technology are acknowledged and addressed. As our presence at this IGF shows, women are ready for action and it is high time we are part of the multi-stakeholders who form, develop and sustain this forum.

Standing in Solidarity with our Muslim Sisters

Originally published at http://www.resurj.org/blog/sri-lanka-standing-solidarity-our-muslim-sisters

A country’s laws must respond to and reflect the lived realities of its people and uphold their fundamental rights as human beings. It has become more apparent than ever as the country goes through a process of constitutional reform that Sri Lanka has a fair share of laws that don’t do so and result in violating people’s basic human rights. These include archaic laws from our colonial past such as the Vagrants Ordinance of 1841, sections 365 and 365A of the Penal Code that criminalize homosexuality, and certain customary and personal laws. The latter are Kandyan law (applicable to people of Kandyan origin), Tesawalamai law (applicable to Tamil people from the North of the country) and Muslim law (applicable to Sri Lankan muslims). These laws mostly pertain to inheritance and marriage, and contain provisions that discriminate against women when it comes to the ownership, inheritance, transfer and disposal of land and property, as well as legal capacity, marriage, divorce, and custody of children.

Currently these discriminatory provisions and laws remain unchallenged due to Article 16 (1) of the present Constitution, which prevents judicial review of any laws that have been in existence before 1978 (this amounts to over 600 laws introduced by statutes before 1978), even when they are inconsistent with the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, including the right to equality and the right to non-discrimination. Therefore there are calls to repeal Article 16(1) in the new Constitution and the expected result of this is not to get rid of personal laws and other laws prior to 1978 but to ensure that all Sri Lankan citizens, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, etc., would have access to remedy if their individual rights are violated by these laws.

It is in this context that Muslim personal laws have become the current hot topic in the country, especially the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) of 1951. For years, women’s rights groups have advocated to reform the MMDA and have time and again been challenged. Advocacy around this issue has gained momentum with the ongoing process of constitutional reform in the country and has received backlash when it comes to the proposed reforms to the MMDA.

As stated by the Muslim Personal Law Reforms Action Group (MPLRAG), such resistance “completely ignores the present day lived realities of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka. For example, it shocks our conscience that Islamic jurisprudence is misinterpreted to justify child marriage and prevent women being appointed as Quazi judges.”

The calls for reform are rooted in the right of all Muslims, including women and girls, to equality, justice and non-discrimination. As Muslim women’s demands show, most of the reforms are related to the sexual and reproductive rights of Muslim women and girls whether it is the minimum age of marriage, mandatory consent of the woman to marriage, equal divorce provisions for women and men or the right to register a marriage under the General Marriage Registration Ordinance (GMRO).

As MPLRAG clearly and rightly says, the “State has the foremost responsibility to ensure that State laws protect rights of citizens and are not in-turn causing gender based violence, discrimination and injustice.” In addition, there are various international obligations to which the State must be held accountable. At the recently concluded review, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) called on the Sri Lankan government to expedite the process of Muslim personal law reform.

If we are to ensure that the country meets these various and interconnected obligations, then it is imperative that all actors in the reform process, including the Muslim Personal Laws (MPL) Reforms Committee, political leaders (both Muslim and non-Muslim) as well as the Sri Lankan State, demonstrate their commitment to implement the proposed reforms.

We are at a pivotal moment in Sri Lankan history and it is the duty of all citizens to stand in solidarity with our Muslim sisters to ensure that when we talk about rights to equality, justice and non-discrimination, we are talking about rights for all of us and not just for some of us or even most of us. Go to https://mplreforms.com/ to find out how to support this important work.

Assessment of Strategic Communications Needs

Hello friends in Sri Lanka. I have been working in strategic communications for the past 8 years or so and during that time I have both carried out and coordinated various communications, documentation and digital security trainings. The most common feedback I’ve received from such trainings is that while the trainings are great and immensely useful, it is difficult to apply the learnings to the work of an organization or a group when only one person (or if you’re lucky, two) has gone through the training. This is understandable because communications, documentation and digital security all require behavioral and organization cultural change which cannot be adopted (or adapted!) through a one off training for one team member.

With these as well as various other challenges in mind, I’m proposing that we try a new method of training. One in which a trainer (possibly me but hopefully many others as we carry out training of trainers) comes into the organization for a few days and works closely with the organization to identify needs and specific contexts, and to train teams to address those needs as effectively as possible. There will also be training of trainers on a local level so that larger communities and constituencies can benefit from the trainings and the results can be sustainable.

I’m particularly interested in carrying out such training programmes for feminist and women’s rights organizations and women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in Sri Lanka, with a particular emphasis on groups that remain the margins of the women’s movement for various reasons. And even if you’re a feminist or women’s rights group, I’m still interested in groups whose work is human rights-based. Please note that I plan to carry out these trainings on a voluntary basis (in other words, no resource person/ consultant) fees so all I’m looking for at this point are passionate teams with an interest in setting up or improving their communications, documentation and digital security practices.

If this is of interest to you, please fill out the needs assessment survey I’ve prepared. You can access it in English, Tamil or Sinhala and I apologize in advance for any spelling or grammar mistakes that may have appeared in the Tamil and Sinhala translations due to the conversion to unicode.

Fill out the survey in English

Fill out the survey in Tamil

Fill out the survey in Sinhala

If you can’t access the online survey or if you have any follow up questions, feel free to contact me at sachiniperera at gmail dot com

Thank you!

Image by ideyweb

Memories and Things

How do we remember our dead? This thought crosses my mind whenever our extended families gather together. My grandmothers are no more and they have left behind a void that often goes unnoticed until you notice it and then you cannot not notice it anymore. You see a chair and you miss a smile. You see a book and you miss a conversation. As much as I believe in the Buddhist philosophy of detachment (believe being the keyword), at the end of the day what we are left with are memories and things, things and memories.

My two grandmothers. Habarakada achchi and Pannipitiya achchi as I called them, identifying them by their respective hometowns where they lived after marriage and until they died.

My two achchi’s. One made her presence known, almost always. Whether she was happy or sad or angry or unwell, she’d speak up. Sometimes she’d say classist or racist things, comically cringeworthy as with most people of her generation. Other times she’d say cleverly biting things about her husband, my only living grandparent right now, making all of us laugh. Even as her health deteriorated and reduced her mobility, she still ran the household using her words. During family functions such as alms givings, she’d dictate orders to my mother who for her part would humor achchi and then continue to do things her way because stubbornness is genetically passed down (I’d know).

Most recently, I was thinking about Habarakada achchi as we got ready for a family wedding. I’m sure many of us were thinking about her though we didn’t talk to each other about it. How we wished she could have been there with us, how maybe even if she was alive it would have been too daunting a journey for her to travel so far for the occasion and so on. As the wedding ceremony commenced and parents and elders were invoked, she was present in our memories. While watching the marriage rituals unfold, I turned to one of my aunts and told her how simple and beautiful her necklace was, only to be told that it was achchi’s. Achchi wore it when she got married and then my aunt. It was a bittersweet jolt to realize she was there with us in more than our memories.

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My father’s mother was a quiet but constant presence. She was the older of my grandmothers and was a rockstar in her own right. She had a very sharp memory and while her short term memory began to slip as she entered the tenth decade of her life, she’d recall and share things from the past. Recall, she probably always did, as she sat in her usual chair tapping her fingers on the armrest. Share, she usually did when prompted by someone because she used her words sparingly (clearly not a trait I inherited though stubbornness was passed down from this side as well). While I never knew my paternal grandfather (who gave me musicality, writing and a short fuse), some of his lyrics show that achchi was his muse. Or at least the dormant romantic in me likes to think so.

Five years ago, she was in my memories and close to my heart when I got married. I had my reasons to enter into an institution I remain dubious about and goes against some of my deepest convictions, I had my reasons to do it at 25 (while hearing the horrified shrieks of my 15 year old self) and I’ve since been proud and constantly amazed by how my partner and I have deconstructed and made our own this institution (not to be taken as an endorsement of said institution). But I was also trying to find, and remain, myself in a wedding that escalated from a simple ceremony at home to a full blown big fat Sri Lankan wedding and while whiskey helped a lot, what also helped was keeping my gentle grandmother close to me.

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Achchi gifted me this brooch many years ago with a note that said my grandfather gifted it to her for her 25th birthday while he was courting her. It was a reminder to my young(er) self that your 85 year old grandmother too has romance in her life and with my disinterest in new and/or branded wedding trousseau, it was the perfect piece of jewelry to wear that day (along with my mother’s wedding sari but that’s another post). I have no idea what the stone is, I have no idea how much the brooch is valued at but I like to think that its true value is that it kept her present at the wedding in addition to our collective memories.

Things, sentimentality and heirlooms are all overrated. If not our social class then our names are definite proof that we are not the kind of family who have heirlooms that go back great many generations though were she alive Habarakada achchi will remind us that her lineage goes back to King Mayadunne. We are also not the kind of family that has hoarded too many things from the past (a reminder to my father that most of the random things he buys off Amazon will be discarded one day except maybe the Reacher and Grabber, trust me it’s worth Googling). But what we do hang on to, whether it’s a piece of ordinary looking jewelry or a library of books or a rusty gramophone or an old pen, are a true testament to the power of memories and things.

My two grandmothers. My two achchi’s. I wouldn’t say not a day goes by without me thinking of you because that is not true. But I do think of you more often than anyone would assume and sometimes it helps to have something to hold on to other than the memories.

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Underwhelmed by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO)

(Photos by Pramyth Abeysekra)

After two and a half years in Malaysia, finally watched a performance by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO). The 2016/17 season opening concert “A Musical Journey in Anime”, which incidentally was false advertising given that only half the programme was from Joe Hisaishi’s anime repertoire.

How was the performance? In one word, underwhelming. It was nice to attend an orchestra performance after a long time and listen to some familiar and much loved tunes but for the money spent and the hype around the orchestra, it was quite disappointing.

While sounding really good as an ensemble, mainly thanks to the string section, the solo sections were alarmingly shaky (with exceptions like the principal violin, cello and trumpet). A combination of jarringly wrong notes, issues in tempo and lack of synchronization between instruments, especially in the woodwind section and the violas, all left me scratching my head given the rave reviews I often see for the MPO.

One of the reasons is probably the international boycott of MPO auditions since 2012 due to the management’s poor treatment of musicians. This means the orchestra no longer attracts great talent and probably causes friction within the orchestra as well resulting in little chemistry among players.

I was also curious about the fact that even 18 years after its inception, the MPO is Malaysian only by name. The orchestra comprises of musicians from 25 countries around the world and while that is impressive (at least on paper), one wonders whether the MPO and its education and outreach programmes for nearly two decades have made any contribution towards nurturing and launching new cohorts of musicians given the tiny ratio of local musicians to foreign (at least as far as I could observe) in the orchestra. And I have no idea whether there are set ratios for the composition of the orchestra but lack of local talent is an overused rationale 18 years later. While there are other local orchestras, the MPO remains the most prominent, prestigious and well funded ensemble in the country. There is apparently also an MPO youth orchestra but from what I read in the concert programme, they have not toured since 2012.

The MPO is also expensive. There are concessions for students but apart from that, the target audience seems to be people rich enough to afford the highly priced seasonal passes and tickets (which is probably true of many orchestras around the world except most performances are on a much higher level). I may have been a regular orchestra goer in Sri Lanka (when I was not performing) but in Malaysia I definitely cannot do the same, even with increased earning capacity. We paid RM 162 per ticket for mid-level seats (for comparison, almost LKR 6,000 per ticket) and while that seems reasonable for the quality of the venue and the projected caliber of the orchestra, it’s definitely not worth the actual performance we saw.

So yeah, underwhelming and slightly confusing is what I’d call this first MPO experience. Would I go back? Maybe if there are interesting programmes in the future or irresistible guest performers but otherwise this orchestra comes across as a waste of money in pseudo-intellectualism which I suppose is not my problem if you have the money for it 😋

PS. Maybe due to how powerful Petronas is (the MPO’s principal donor), I couldn’t find much writing on or reviews of the orchestra so these are purely my own observations and hypotheses except for the international boycott and mistreatment of players which is pretty well documented including by the International Federation of Musicians.

Anyway, here’s a cheery (albeit misleading) poster of Totoro to balance the negatives

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