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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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.

A Love Letter To My IUD

Last week I came across a campaign that is asking people to write love letters to their contraception. As with most nauseating Valentine’s Day messages (I don’t celebrate, in case you didn’t catch on), I found these messages to be way too starry eyed and completely ignoring the not-so-good times that come hand in hand with contraception. So I’ve decided to write my own letter to my IUD and let me warn you that my love comes with some hate (doesn’t all love? no?).

I gave a gift to myself this year. On the 1st of January 2016 I visited my gynecologist and had a copper intrauterine device (IUD) inserted into my uterus. It came with a guarantee of 10 years which appealed to my choice to live childfree and it came with the dark foreboding of more pain which freaked me out to no end. Moreover, medical practitioners as well as many other people I know have confined the IUD to the domain of women who have given birth and older women that I wasn’t even sure if it was for me.

However after flirting with various methods of contraception for the decade or so I’ve been sexually active, I decided that the year I turn 30 should be the year I finally take charge of this aspect of my life. For an extreme control freak, this was an anomaly in my life and it came about due to a combination of my bad reactions to hormone based contraceptives, my constant paranoia about condoms and the resultant panic attacks (accompanied by emergency contraceptives or pregnancy tests or both), several dry spells due to medical complications and the lack of a non-judgmental and approachable gynecologist who would listen to my needs without imposing their views of how I should live my life. So I finally started taking the steps I should have taken over ten years ago. And please note that what I describe below is my personal experience and that it can differ from person to person.

Budding Young Love

Research | The first step was getting more information and gaining more knowledge on what I was getting into. My work on sexual and reproductive health and rights often has me writing about the need for a rights-based approach to access to information on contraception as well as access to services. But I realized that apart from condoms and contraceptive and emergency contraceptive pills, I had at best a vague understanding of the practical implications (both good and bad) of using other methods of contraception. So I did my research with both the more established sources (the Planned Parenthood website is a good resource) as well as by combing through blog posts by women sharing their experiences, again both good and bad.

More Research | I also researched gynecologists. What I realized was that my friends and I almost never discussed gynecologists. For people who go into almost garish details about each other’s sex lives, we were not discussing the health aspects of our sex lives. Of course there would be the occasional casual conversation about contraception, the not-so-casual conversation when someone needed an abortion but until our late 20’s or until a medical complication necessitated it, many of us didn’t bother with finding a gynecologist or doing the routine checkups that go with it. Once I began these conversations, I was able to find a wonderful gynecologist who is smart, professional, patient and at least seemingly non-judgmental.

Conversations | After discussing my discomforts with certain contraception and after learning about my choice to live childfree, the gynecologist recommended a copper IUD. She gave me more reading to do about the IUD (I may have given off the vibe for more information) and answered my questions about other possible options. I had a conversation with my partner, especially about the myths around how an IUD might be felt or come off during intercourse. He was mostly amazed by how much cheaper an IUD that lasts 10 years was compared to any other method so yeah he was onboard and then it was on to the actual insertion.

The First Fight

The first bump in the road to long-lasting protection (from pregnancy and not from sexually transmitted infections/ diseases) came during the slight pain caused during the insertion (details about an IUD insertion can be found here) and the avalanche of pain that came in the 24-36 hours afterwards. I was prepared for the idea of the pain, having had the necessary painkillers and cleared my scheduled for the day, but I was not prepared for exactly how much it was going to hurt. I had read in a blog post that it feels remotely like labor pain and while writhing around in bed with my partner massaging my back and holding a hot compress to my back and lower abdomen, I finally realized what the blogger meant. Just as one wave of pain ended, the other one would come up and so on and so forth. However I was lucid enough to think of the bigger picture and that got me through those hours (kind of, almost).

‘Honeymoon’ Period

Things were pretty rosy after that (sometimes literally since the IUD can cause spotting) and I was actually enjoying the feeling of not having to constantly worry about forgetting the pill or not having condoms at hand. At the same time there was a part of me feeling pretty strange about having this foreign object inside me and the first time I had sex after the IUD insertion, I had that irrational fear that it would either poke me or poke him (yes after all of the reading I had done). Thankfully neither happened. It still took some getting used to having otherwise unprotected sex and while I’m fully aware of the copper in the IUD being the spermicide, I have chosen to picture the IUD as a tiny boxer, throwing punches at each sperm that comes its way. Somehow that’s more comforting (don’t ask).

Brace Yourself….

……the period is coming. The first menstruation after inserting the IUD was one of mixed emotions (some of you may ask which period isn’t). I was extremely relieved to find out that it actually works (high five!) and on the flip side, the pain hit me so hard that I couldn’t sit up straight (I had been too preoccupied with work to anticipate its arrival with a painkiller as I usually do). As it is with menstruation, it arrived at the most inconvenient time while I was away from home at a conference and I spent a day fueled entirely by pain killers and black coffee in order to get from session to session. It was definitely worse than a regular period (which are bad enough for me) and an undercurrent of pain went on for about 2 days despite the painkillers. And my spoils of war afterwards were a back spent after spasming and sweet relief that it was over.

How Long Will I Love You

After that raging period, I was back to being in love with my IUD. Sure, there are some slight cramps when ovulation happens but that used to happen to me earlier as well and it’s just more defined now. But for most days of the month, I don’t even remember that it’s there and it has lifted a great burden off my shoulders. Like all new relationships, a month and a half is too early (unless he or she turns out to be an absolute nightmare) to tell whether the IUD and I are in this for the long run or not. In a perfect world I’d have had a tubal ligation years ago but I’m yet to find a medical practitioner who would facilitate that and hopefully the 30-something me would be taken more seriously one day when I revisit that option.

Until then, I’ve learnt that while no method of contraception is absolutely perfect and convenient, the IUD is what I need at this stage of my life and a few days of pain per month pales in comparison to the value it has added to my life. I have also learnt that I should never take for granted the access to information and quality services that is available to me because it has the power to transform your life and yet there are millions of women and girls around the world lacking such access.

So yes, I love you my IUD (maybe it’s time I named you) and please remember that even on the days I’m screaming at you and wishing that you were dead. That’s just how love works.

PS. 5 IUD Myths Busted

Engaging Youth via New Media: Beyond ‘Clicktivism’

Originally published at http://blogs.worldbank.org/endpovertyinsouthasia/engaging-youth-new-media-beyond-clicktivism

Photo by Pavithra Jovan de Mello (facebook.com/JovanDeMelloPhotography)

Photo by Pavithra Jovan de Mello (facebook.com/JovanDeMelloPhotography)

In my work with Women and Media Collective (WMC), a leading women’s organization in  Sri Lanka, I have often noticed the lack of engagement with young women (and young men) and also their apparent lack of interest to engage with WMC’s work. Being a young woman myself and often being one of the few representing my demography at various events, I started to analyze this issue. I still haven’t cracked the formula but being both a young woman and part of a women’s organization, I decided to experiment with ways to engage the youth by meeting them halfway.

WMC set up a new media unit with the intention of expanding our target audience and in addition to a revamped website, we began to engage and communicate via avenues of new media such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Blogging, etc.

In 2011 and 2012, as part of our work for the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, we curated the Sri Lanka 16 Days Blog, using social networking and blogging as a platform for raising awareness about gender based violence. Our target audience was young women and young men as statistics show that they are the largest group active in this sphere. For an example, the largest groups of Facebook users in Sri Lanka are between the ages of 18-24 years, followed by 25-34 years.

Therefore we met them halfway by creating an online platform on which they could express themselves in any format (blog, tweet, upload photos and/or videos, upload podcasts, creative writing, art, photography, essays, short films, interviews, cartoons, etc.) and in Sinhala, Tamil or English. And the reaction was quite positive.

We received a variety of blog posts ranging from personal accounts to creative writing, photo essays to cartoons and some of them went viral resulting in youth groups such as Beyond Borders and Reach Out conducting their own online campaigns inspired by our blog.

Through this exercise we broke the silence about gender-based violence, at least to a certain extent, within the limitations of what one would call a “safe” space (though it isn’t the case anymore). And the interest generated in the online campaign resulted in it being featured in mainstream media, which meant that we took the discourse on gender-based violence further and increased our audience. What we realized was that there were young people who were keen to express themselves but didn’t have a good platform to do so and others who also spoke up with a little encouragement from us.

Another obstacle to engaging the youth to break their silence is that they are not receiving the necessary information. Therefore, we make it a priority to constantly react to incidents of violence and also to raise awareness on the necessary legal and policy reform and to this end, we collaborate with other organizations. For an example, we promoted a working paper by the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) regarding the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 2005, which analyzed the lead up to the Act as well as its shortcomings.

This experience was helpful when I joined a small team of individuals who conducted an online campaign and organized an event for the One Billion Rising movement. Our strategy was to use new media, especially Facebook, to engage and mobilize a large group of people, mostly young. This was a challenge in an age of clicktivism where the enthusiasm displayed in an online sphere is rarely translated into the offline sphere.

With this challenge in mind, we launched Reason to Rise, an online campaign to which anyone could contribute by sending in photographs, videos, notes, blog posts, artwork, etc. telling us why they will rise against gender-based violence.

There is a widespread denial about the existence of gender-based violence in Sri Lanka, starting from State officials to policy makers to the general public. In particular, domestic violence is often disregarded as a concept derived from Western culture and also as something that does not occur among the urban, educated middle class. But statistics tell otherwise.

In Sri Lanka, police statistics show that there has been a 6% increase in sexual abuse of women and girls in 2012 with at least 700 incidents of sexual abuse of girls reported in the first half of 2012. These include gang rape and sale of young girls for sexual abuse. It has also been revealed that 90% of women are abused when using public transport. 4000 of the 15,000 cases that are being heard in courts are regarding violence against children.

Also, since 2008 there has been a trend in imposing suspended sentences in cases of rape and child molestation. Of 129 reported cases from 2008 onwards, an alarming 114 cases (88%) received a suspended sentence, which included a nominal compensation fine. This is perpetuating impunity in cases of violence against women and is a gross injustice to women victims of violence.

Our reiteration of these statistics and sharing of news reports on incidents of violence against women and children made an impact and again, we had people speaking up, especially young people. Many approached us with hesitation, some choosing to remain anonymous, but as more people spoke up, the numbers started growing.

Our main challenge of mobilizing the same group to the offline sphere was successful to some extent when about 600 people gathered at Lipton Circus, Colombo to demonstrate against gender-based violence and hold a candlelight vigil in honor of victims and survivors of the same. For many, it was there first protest/demonstration/vigil. The One Billion Rising campaign was a great example of the potential in new media to engage youth in breaking their silence both online and offline.

As for Women and Media Collective, we continue to engage with the youth via our new media avenues and we’re always looking for ways to make our work more relatable to young people. We’re also working with women new media producers and giving them space on our online platforms to speak up. But we are aware of the challenges that lie ahead in getting youth to get involved and stay involved offline. We’re developing strategies to face this such as opening up more opportunities for volunteers and interns, consulting youth groups for our work, organizing workshops for young people, etc.

Some of the questions to ask yourselves therefore would be:

For civil society organizations.

  • – Why engage the youth?
  • – What is stopping you?
  • – How to get started?

For the youth:

  • – Are you an active member of the civil society?
  • – What is stopping you?
  • – What are the tools, information and exposure you need to get started?

Morning Puja at Koneswaram

A few months ago we visited Koneswaram just before sunrise, only to find out that we were on time for the morning puja (in fact even the priests arrived after us!). It was a surreal experience, with all the rituals, the sounds of different bells and chants, the colours and the devotees. These are some of the photos I captured in all my excitement. It was definitely worth waking up early for and completely different from my previous visit in the middle of the day.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koneswaram_temple

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sachini-perera/

All rights reserved by the photographer. These images cannot be used, copied, displayed or downloaded from this site without permission from copyright holder.

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The Ceylon Traveller – Magul Maha Viharaya, Lahugala

Originally published in The Sunday Leader on 01/04/2012 (http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2012/04/01/the-ceylon-traveller-magul-maha-viharaya-lahugala/)

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I visited Magul Maha Viharaya in Lahugala back in 2009. It is yet another place that has so much history behind it and lots of interesting tidbits but isn’t flaunting any of it, preferring to exist quietly.

Lahugala is ten miles inland off the East Coast town of Pottuvil, an area believed to have been part of the Ruhunu kingdom. It is home to several tanks, beautiful green vegetation, a National Park (with a good chance of seeing elephants frolicking near the road) and the Magul Maha Viharaya, which is also known as Ruhunu Maha Viharaya.

During the war, many civilians from adjoining villages had left the area for safety and it is only now that the temple is once again being patronized regularly and is visited by pilgrims and tourists.

The history of the temple is a bit muddled and there are different versions on how it came about to be. One is that it was built by King Dathusena who ruled the Anuradhapura kingdom from 516 AD to 526 AD. There is a stone inscription at the site that dates back to the 14th century, which proclaims thus. This is also supported by the fact that the architecture of the temple,  especially the stone pillars, is very similar to the architecture of the Anuradhapura era.

Another version is that it was built by King Kavantissa in the 2nd century BC on the location where the King married Princess Vihara Maha Devi. Supporters of this claim that one of the ancient ruins found at the premises are the foundation of the “Magul maduwa” where the wedding ceremony took place. This is sometimes dismissed as folklore and it is said that the actual location where the wedding took place is the nearby Muhudu Maha Viharaya at Arugam Bay.

Regardless of its founding, it is evident as soon as you enter the Magul Maha Viharaya that it is a valuable ancient ruin with beautiful and sometimes unusual architecture. It had clearly been a thriving institution with the site currently spanning to about 10,000 acres with ruins of a palace, moonstone, monastery, stupa, ponds, etc.

The most interesting element I came across at Magul Maha Viharaya was the moonstone. At first glance it looks just the moonstones you may see at other temples but upon close inspection, it is most unusual and is supposedly the only one of its kind in Sri Lanka. What makes it stand apart is the fact that every fourth elephant in the line of elephants in the moonstone (elephants are a regular feature on moonstones) has a mahout on its back. This is a highly unusual feature but so far I have not been able to find out if there is an explanation for this.

Other ruins found at the premises include the remains of a stupa, the remains of a structure which is called the “Magul Maduwa”, ponds, etc. These are decorated with carvings such as the one shown in the photo of the face of a monkey. It is notable that most of these carvings are very basic and lack the intricacies of carvings from later eras. This again confirms that the founding of the Magul Maha Viharaya goes back to very ancient times.