Since the beginning of the SHOW YOU CARE project on the 21st of June, I’ve tried to understand the justification behind Sri Lanka Unites carrying out a project of this nature. Why should a youth-led movement for reconciliation do something about the way women are treated in public transport? Aren’t there other organizations that deal with gender issues? Does it really fit in with the vision of Sri Lanka Unites? These are some questions that I have long pondered, and I’m sure many others would have too. Now as we begin the next stage of SHOW YOU CARE, it is important that we outline clearly why we, as Sri Lanka Unites, took up the challenge of standing up for proper treatment of women in public.
On Monday, we had our preliminary meeting for SHOWDOWN, an event aimed at taking the cause to a whole new level through more media attention, policy suggestions and extending the campaign to an island-wide initiative. At the beginning of this meeting, Prashan De Visser spoke to those present about the cause and the reasons why we’re involved. I present below a very brief summary of what he said.
Sri Lanka Unites is a youth movement for hope and reconciliation, and our long term goal is to explore the potential of youth to bring out societal change. We work with equipping and empowering youth to work together to build a better Sri Lanka for their future generations. But, we are not a movement limited to words alone. We always aspire to back our words with action, for it is the actions that truly impact change. The issue of women harassment, especially in public places is a constantly growing menace. Many of those around us, starting from girls in our school chapters to those working with us at SLU have faced harassment. Most of them don’t openly talk about it because they are embarrassed and in some cases, they even feel that somehow it was their fault. It’s an issue that the entire country faces, and yet only a very few speak about it at all. If harassment in public spaces is at such a peak, then imagine how much more so it would be behind closed doors in the forms of marital abuse and child abuse? The way women are treated in Sri Lanka needs to change, and that change needs to begin with us. So, where action is needed it is our moral obligation to act. And that is the first reason Sri Lanka Unites got involved.
Secondly, it is an issue that unites us all. Regardless of ethnicity or religion, caste or creed, women from every segment of society face this issue. So coming together with a common goal – which is the eradication of the menace of harassment, can bring about a certain sense of unity and understanding. Identifying with another’s issues is a very important step in reconciliation, and what better way than to identify through an issue that affects everyone almost equally. After we started the SHOW YOU CARE project, we’ve spoken to our members in chapters around the country, and everyone regardless of whether they are from North or South have faced this issue in some form, either directly or through it happening to their mothers, sisters or loved ones. In fact, during our initial stage of the campaign, we had boys boarding buses in groups of three, speaking in Tamil and Sinhala, showing that it is in fact a cause that they were willing to unite for.
Thirdly, it is a battle that can be won. The road towards reconciliation is a long one, and it would take a good number of years to achieve that end. However, in this long journey towards a united and reconciled Sri Lanka, we need to win smaller battles to give us the hope that we can accomplish great things as the youth of this nation and keep us passionate about the cause. Proper treatment of women is as important a cause as the cause of reconciliation. However, the former can be achieved relatively sooner, if we put in the necessary effort and energy than the latter, which might take relatively more time. So, by uniting and working towards the proper treatment of women in Sri Lanka, we also reaffirm our hope for achieving a reconciled Sri Lanka.
For these reasons, it is both justified and well within the Sri Lanka Unites mandate to stand up against the harassment of women, in order to eliminate it not only from public places but to completely purge Sri Lankan society of this evil. We are also well equipped to handle this issue, with a network of young men throughout the country who can take on this initiative that we have started, and see it to an end. So we continue our journey, along this new road to show that we care, and to make a lasting change. SHOWDOWN will be held next month, to demand changes at the policy level to better implement the law against harassment of women through creating more awareness, gaining more media coverage and through taking the first step towards making this an island-wide cause, by passing on the baton to Kandy.