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Friday, 11 March 2011

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Halt to domestic violence

The appeal made by actress turned politician Upeksha Swarnamali for all MPs to unite against domestic violence hopefully will receive the serious attention it deserves. Making her maiden speech after being discharged from hospital in Parliament on Wednesday Swarnamali a victim of domestic violence herself made the stunning disclosure that 60 percent of Sri Lankan women were subject to domestic violence - 44 percent of them expectant mothers. This is all the more regrettable considering the exalted position accorded to women in Sri Lankan society and local culture and considering the preeminent role of the woman on the domestic front.

Therefore the matter should engage the attention of all those in responsible positions and measures taken to alleviate the suffering of women folk in our society who are increasingly being subjected to domestic violence and cruel treatment. Like the MP said it is just not alcoholism that is responsible for violence against women. Poverty, economic pressures and psychological factors too play a part.

It is no more a simple and straightforward matter, with domestic violence taking various forms and dimensions. All such matters should be addressed professionally if we are to contain the increasing incidents of violence against women in Sri Lankan society.

True, violence against women is a common phenomenon in Asia particularly in backward communities. But compared to the rest we had a unique reputation for treating our women with dignity and respect. We should not sully that reputation by allowing things to continue as they are.

There is a need for a strong institutional mechanism to be set up to deal with the whole gamut of problems associated with violence against women. This should include provision for appropriate counselling and mediation. Nothing short of a holistical solution will suffice. We should not allow violence against women to be a blot on our cherished cultural values and social order that have come in for high praise. But at the rate women are subject to harassment and cruel treatment in our country we are soon bound to lose this honour.

Lankan women have been subjected to the worse forms of indignities in recent times not only on the domestic front. We read almost on a daily basis of ordeals suffered by returning housemaids some with nails embedded in their bodies. It is tragic indeed that women who contribute immensely to the national economy are being subjected to such torture and battered on all fronts. They need to be treated with dignity and honour considering their preeminent position in our cultural context.

It is our women in most cases who keep the home fires burning even slaving in far off countries. They also slave on the domestic front to supplement the meagre incomes of the family. But today it is no secret that there are a large number of battered wives who suffer in silence - victims of alcoholic husbands. The statistics speaks for itself. They are also subjected to humiliation in public transport at the hands of perverts and sadists further degrading their status. It is not just physical battering that our women are subjected to. Our women are also put through the worst ordeals, forced to undertake various chores to fight poverty.

It is only the other day that we celebrated International Women's Day on a grand scale with State patronage. But the question to be asked is if the pledges and resolutions made to improve the lot of our women at such events are really being implemented. Not so going by the above statistics according to which the plight of our women remains unchanged or even worse.

Therefore whatever solution to arrest this trend should invariably take into account the root causes that give rise to this phenomenon. The Women's Bureau should play a more active role in looking into the plight of women subjected to domestic violence. Steps should be taken to make victims more aware of the relief that is available to them through the State. This matter should be tackled as a matter of urgency since domestic violence affects the entire family unit where the children are likely to go astray or suffer psychological scars which could have an impact on their future lives.

Research has found that most society misfits and those with a criminal bent are invariably those who come from broken homes where the family institution had collapsed. Hence the need to go deeper in to this problem so that a healthy society free of domestic violence could be created.

Not only domestic violence discrimination and abuse of women in all forms should be dealt with if we are to restore the dignity attached to the Lankan woman.

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