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A Better Year for Women?



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T IME magazine selects a Person of the Year at the end of each year. Most times they have been spot on. This year the magazine elected a whole group and offered kudos to half the human race. It selected as the most outstanding person of 2017 The Silence Breakers – the Voices that launched a Movement. Yes, they were the women who came forward to speak out on harassment by men and thus started a website ‘#MeToo’ which has branched to many. This was consequent to the barrage of accusations of sexual harassment against men in positions of power. The person who really started it all was actress Ashley Judd who came out and spoke on the sexual harassment she suffered under Harvey Weinstein (64), head of the Hollywood company that produces and distributes films and thus has a hand in selection of actors.


Weinstein had been forcing sexual compliance from women he interviewed but as was usual, they kept silent through fear he would damn their careers. Many followed Judd in speaking out. On October 5, the New York Times carried an article of accusation against him which resulted in the resignation of four members of the all-male Weinstein Company Board. The big man was fired. Then was created the website and many bosses were booted out for the harassment they had meted out to women. Bill Cosby had been accused earlier but many Hollywood names were named, some for same sex harassment, including Dustin Hoffman. President Trump however, though recorded as making demeaning sexual remarks about women (and goodness knows doing what) is safe; for the time being only we hope.


"The women and men who have broken their silence span all races, all income classes, all occupations and virtually all corners of the globe. They might labor in California fields, or behind the front desk at New York City’s regal Plaza Hotel, or in the European Parliament. They’re part of a movement that has no formal name. But now they have a voice."


Of course as usually happens, like removing and burning bras in public when American women crusaded for women’s equal rights in the 1960s, they are going to town on this issue. For example the recently held Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Golden Globes saw most women wearing black walk down the red carpet to show solidarity. The host Seth Meyers set the ball rolling by saying "Welcome ladies and gentlemen. Its 2018 when marijuana is fully allowed and sexual harassment finally isn’t." Oprah Winfrey said, "But it’s not just a story affecting the entertainment industry, it’s one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics or workplace. So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know." And concluded with "A new day is on the horizon." With all this brouhaha, over-reaching is possible when a man will be afraid to pay a compliment to a woman colleague or help a woman who seems to need a helping hand. They somewhat diminished men over there, if I may say so, with their strident cries for equality; now they may ultimately be the losers with men holding back for fear of being accused of harassment. Thank goodness we in this country are moderate. We take out time but fight the good fight without excessive militancy.


Situation in our country


As women in a basically patriarchal societal milieu and being culturally eastern and reticent about personal matters, Sri Lankan females suffered and continue to suffer silently sexual harassment in buses, on the streets, in schools and offices and mostly in homes. The last is the commonest and perhaps deadliest of abuse as domestic violence takes many forms: emotional, sexual and even marital rape. It’s across the board. Generally harassed wives hold their tongues in consideration of their children, social position, economic reasons and reluctance to separation and divorce Maybe there is no lucky woman in the country who has sailed through life without bumping into perverts and even ‘normal’ men who gloat on their superiority and thus take advantage of the so called weaker sex.


Things seem destined to change. Women themselves are changing their attitudes. Steps are taken by the police to prevent exploitation of girls by having a female officer at a Women’s Desk at every station. Women have come forward with complaints and the law has come down heavily on rapists and kidnappers. The most significant ray of hope is that corruption and immorality in politics is being targeted. Political party leaders have been warned to field candidates who do not have stained CVs. People are wiser after being sickened by Pradeshiya Sabha high ups, particularly, being caught molesting, kidnapping, raping helpless women. One was duly punished for murder.


Pluses


A rule is in place for higher women’s representation in the public sector and in LG bodies and Parliament. The President, in his wisdom, is to set up a women’s group to advance the progress of women so they stand abreast of men and not as traditionally, ten paces behind. That will surely encourage more women to step into politics and positions of power. Sexual harassment will have its ugliness and harm to gentle psyches greatly reduced. Of course women can turn out harassers, even sexual, but this condition is all too rare, maybe hopefully totally absent in this fair isle of ours. The prohibition of child servants is a great step forward.


We have a very competent woman lawyer and top academic as the Head of the Human Rights Commission – Dr Deepika Udagama. Many organizations function to protect and help the female. Punishment for rape et al is much more severe now through the Penal Code. One organization that has been functioning efficiently with lawyers and counselors among its staff is Women in Need (WIN) - a local, non-profit, non–governmental organization whose mandate is: -


" … committed to the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls. For the last 30 years, Women in Need has been fighting for gender equality and standing up for human rights for women and girls by campaigning for a violence free society … dedicated to addressing issues of domestic violence, rape, child abuse, incest, cyber violence, street harassment and other forms of violence faced by women and girls across Sri Lanka. … to the creation of a violence-free society that values and respects women’s rights."


WIN has expanded to branches in eight districts across the island since its inception in 1987, and a remarkable feature is running safe houses where battered wives, particularly, can be sheltered until their marital problems are eased. As noted, it includes the entire spectrum of abuse inclusive of cyber violence. We have had two suicides in Colombo on account of girls suffering abuse via cell phones. The recent film Dharmauddaya dealt with the consequences to a family of a pervert filming the elder daughter taking a bath and later demanding sex from her and then the mother which led to murder.


Thus sexual harassment may greatly reduce in the future. One area where the abused themselves have to rise up and protest and seek release is domestic violence where husbands behind bedroom doors are damnably guilty. That kind of abuse is tentacular, on-going, pervasive, and the wives held to ransom. But we have hope since the government itself is turning genuinely female-friendly.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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