Monday, December 26, 2011

Endless Search for Endearing Children

"Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told: I'm with you kid. Let's go" ~ Maya Angelou, African American Poet, civil rights activist, dancer, film producer, television producer, playwright, film director, author, actress and professor (1928 ~ )

Tender Sprout” or செந்தளிர் (Senthalir) was located in the coastal area of Puthukkudiyiruppu in Mullaitivu district, North East of Sri Lanka. This home for the war orphans had 175 children when Tsunami hit, only 30 children survived. Later, they were relocated to a different place inland. Most of the children were affected by the Tsunami. Either they have lost their beloved brothers and sisters or struggled to survive. They couldn’t eat, sleep or play. The cherished memories of the loved ones kept bothering these children day and night. They were unable to forget the haunting past. The lost the loved ones stayed, ate, slept and played together. After experiencing the war and Tsunami, they used to get up in the night and scream. They had bad dreams: they had many sleepless nights.

Tender Sprout in Puthukkudiyiruppu in Mullaitivu district

I was putting cover for the new exercise books, and getting ready for the new school term, which was supposed to begin in early January 2005. I heard a noise and everybody started to run. I also ran and climbed on a tree. I saw my little sister under that tree. And later she was washed away. I witnessed it. But I never saw her body. I was told that, she died on the way to the hospital” said Susi Sinnathurai (15), who burst into tears while sharing her traumatic experience.

Susi Sinnathurai on Mullaithivu shore in 2005

Emotionally drained

There were more children, who did not know what has happened to their loved ones. These little children have already been affected by the ethnic conflict which lasted for nearly three decades.

Niranjana Balakrishnan (20) is one among many. She lost her parents in the conflict. She is the only child in the family. She stayed at the “Tender Sprout” pre ~ tsunami location in Mullaithivu coast on 26th December 2004. She was holding her three year old friend Arabi, but lost control and let her go with the wave. She carried Arabi's body from Mullaithivu to Mulliyawalai. Since then, she had nightmares about the Tsunami. Mullaitivu was one of the worst affected areas by Tsunami in Sri Lanka.

Niranjana Balakrishnan at Tender Sprout which was relocated twelve kilometers inland, in Udayakattu in 2005

The war began again after a short ceasefire period; people from Mullaithivu left their homes and moved for their safety. Nobody knows about these kids. The war was officially brought to an end in May 2009.

Missing and tracing

UNICEF in partnership with the Government of Sri Lanka has set up a Family Tracing Unit (FTU), which is based in Vavuniya, North of Sri Lanka. "One of the key child protection issues following the displacement of thousands of people in northern Sri Lanka in 2009 was that of separated children. During the last phase of the Sri Lankan conflict, a large number of children among the internally displaced people were lost or separated from their families. As a result, many displaced families were also filing tracing requests and reporting missing children to a number of the authorities at the district as well as at the national level” states a UNICEF report.

A total of 707 children have to date been reported missing from the Northern Province since the end of the conflict (May 2009).Of the total, 374 of the children are boys, and 333 are girls. 116 of the children reported missing have been traced so far. Majority of them were aged 16 and 18 years.

31 of these children have been reunited with their families, while reunification is in process for another 22 children. Another 63 names have found matches, and are currently undergoing verification and tracing states a UNICEF report released on 12th July 2011.

64 per cent of those who have disappeared were recruited by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers). About 30 per cent were reportedly last seen in government ~ controlled areas according to the report by the UNICEF.

Children for "CHARITY"?

"Children affected by war are still a questionable issue. There is no actual data available to figure out the numbers. Soon after the war many children have been abducted or deliberately taken away by certain people to keep them for their household work. Further, some families have taken the children abandoned by their parents while fleeing from Mullivaaikkaal in Mullaithivu district. We do not know how these children were looked after in the welfare centres, because the NGOs did not have access to visit the camps during that period" says Saroja Sivachandran, Director, Centre for Women and Development, a Jaffna based non ~ profit organisation.

"I learned that many homes were established to keep these children just to give them a temporary relief. But these homes are neither registered nor meet the standards. These homes are maintained by individuals and funded by diaspora and local business people. Some of them wanted to run these homes to get relieved from the tax. We gave continuous pressure to the women's and children ministry to intervene into this matter. The children's unit took keen interest and wanted the probation officers to investigate and find out the real situation of these children's situation.In Jaffna Peninsula,31 such homes have been instructed to close down. Now these homes get children only through the courts and legal obligations are also met" further says Saroja Sivachandran.

I recall the sweet smiles and tears of the Tender Sprout children. I always visited “Tender Sprout” and played with the children during my many visits to Mullaithivu.

My eyes fill with tears uncontrollably and my heart toments .These children are in my daily prayers. Everyday, I wait to hear some good news about these cute children. But luck has not yet turned its way. Seven years have passed since the Tsunami hit the coastal belts of Sri Lanka, but my desperate search to locate these endearing children continues endlessly!

Friday, December 09, 2011

From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let's Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!

"Men of Quality are NOT afraid of Equality" ~SANGAT, Indian Feminist Organisation (1998 ~ )

An international campaign of Activism Against Gender Violence is currently being carried out globally. In Sri Lanka too women’s rights activists are involved in many activities such as discussion about the Security Council Resoultion 1325, sticker campaign and website launch.

Respect Humanity ~ STOP sexual harassment ~ Let’s stand up against sexual Harassment

Most of the people are not aware of the law. More awareness should be created among the people about the current law” says Najeem from Saainthamruthu, east cost of Sri Lanka.

Over the span of 65 countries, there are more than 250,000 rape cases that were recorded according to UN report.

Wearing a “White Ribbon” promotes awareness as to educate about what’s been happening and to give women that have endured such difficulties, a voice of hope. Show your support by wearing a White Ribbon from the 25th of November until the 10th of December to subdue this misconception.

Women have suffered due to the war in Sri Lanka. Violence against Women still continues in the North in many forms” shares Kanthimathy Mahathevan from Mannar district, North West of Sri Lanka.

Sexual harassment leads to 5 years in jail in Sri Lanka

Men either have disappeared or died due to the war. Many women in the North are struggling for survival.

There are 40,000 war widows in the North of Sri Lanka. Most of them are very young and have children. Since there is no man in the family, they are forced feed the families. Militarisation and sexual violence against women continue in war torn areas in the North” says Saroja Sivachandran, Director of Centre for Women and Development, a Jaffna based non~profit organistaion.

The Annual Theme

Every year, Centre for Women’s Global Leadership composes a Campaign theme in consultation with women's human rights advocates worldwide and then circulates an announcement for the campaign as widely as possible. Over the years, Campaign themes have included:
•"Violence Against Women Violates Human Rights" (1991/1992)
•"Democracy without Women's Human Rights . . . is not Democracy" (1993 • •"Awareness, Accountability, Action: Violence Against Women Violates Human Rights" (1994)
•"Vienna, Cairo, Copenhagen and Beijing: Bringing Women's Human Rights Home" (1995)
•"Demand Women's Human Rights in the Home and in the World" (1997)
•"Building a Culture of Respect for Human Rights" (1998)
•"Fulfilling the Promise of Freedom from Violence" (1999)
•"Celebrating the Tenth Anniversary of the Campaign" (2000)
•"Racism and Sexism: No More Violence" (2001)
•"Creating a Culture That Says 'No' to Violence Against Women" (2002)
•"Violence Against Women Violates Human Rights: Maintaining the Momentum Ten Years After Vienna (1993-2003)" (2003)
•"For the Health of Women, For the Health of the World: No More Violence," (2004-2005)
•"Celebrate 16 Years of 16 Days: Advance Human Rights ‹—› End Violence Against Women" (2006)
•"Demanding Implementation, Challenging Obstacles: End Violence Against Women!" (2007)
•"Human Rights for Women ‹—› Human Rights for All: UDHR60" (2008)
•"Commit ▪ Act ▪ Demand: We CAN End Violence Against Women" (2009)
•"Structures of Violence: Defining the Intersections of Militarism and Violence Against Women" (2010)
•"From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let's Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women! (2011)

To explore some of the deeper social structures that promote and perpetuate violence against women and girls, last year the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) launched a multi-year campaign theme on the intersections of militarism and violence against women. While there are many different ways to define militarism, our working definition outlines militarism as an ideology that creates a culture of fear and supports the use of violence, aggression, or military interventions for settling disputes and enforcing economic and political interests. Militarism also privileges certain violent forms of masculinity, which often has grave consequences for the true safety and security of women, of men who do not conform to these roles, and of society as a whole. Current world events - including military interventions, femicides, attacks on civilians participating in political change, ongoing conflicts etc ~ exemplify the distinctive way in which militarism influences how we see our neighbors, our families, our public life, and other people in the world.

Gender Based Violence (GBV)

End Violence Against Women

Violence is an act to intimidate, humiliate, hurt or destroy by the use of force. It includes all action taken by one against another with the intention to dominate.
Rape is a form of sexual violence. Violence can also be verbal or emotional. Therefore calling someone derogatory names or telling them they are stupid is a violent act, which can hurt as much as a physical attack.

Gender based violence is a form of a discrimination that seriously inhibits women’s ability to enjoy rights and freedom on a basis of equality with men.
Gender –based violence, which impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women of human rights and fundamental freedom under general international law or human rights conventions, is discrimination within the meaning of Article 1 of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women(CEDAW).

Traditional attitudes by which women are regarded as subordinates to men or as having stereotyped roles to perform, perpetuate widespread practices involving violence or coercion, such as family violence and abuse, forced marriage, dowry deaths, acid attacks and female circumcision. Such prejudices and practices may justify gender-based violence as a form of protection or control of women. The effect of such violence on the physical and mental integrity of women is to deprive them of the equal enjoyment, exercise and knowledge of human rights and fundamental freedom.

“Incidence of domestic violence is as high as 60% in some areas in Sri Lanka according to surveys. Violence against women is widespread in Sri Lanka. Incidences of rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, incest, assault, obscenity against women, unwanted advances, perverted acts, forced pornography, forced prostitution and media violence all prevail in Sri Lankan society. These issues receive attention from diverse sectors, the State, non government sector and civil society, which address preventive measures and provide redress for victims. Despite this attention, violence against women continues to take place in the private and public sphere and the measures taken to prevent and redress, remain insufficient.

Violence Against Women in cartoons

In Sri Lanka, gender based violence ranges from sexual harassment in public spaces to acts of violence within the privacy of the home or at workplaces. It is acknowledged that the issue of who or which group in society has more power than others and who can exert acts of gender based violence is not restricted to economic power but is very much rooted in notions of social power and hierarchies in access to exercising such power. Thus the concept of gender based violence necessarily includes two aspects - violence which arises out of asymmetrical power relations resulting from socialisation processes, as well as gender based discrimination arising from structural violence against women, as can be seen, for example through the impact of violence against women as a result of armed conflict” according to Women in Need.

What is 16 Days Campaign?

16 Days Logo

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign originating from the first Women's Global Leadership Institute sponsored by the Center for Women's Global Leadership in 1991. Participants chose the dates November 25- International Day Against Violence Against Women- and December 10- International Human Rights Day- in order to symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights. This 16-day period also highlights other significant dates including November 29, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, December 1, World AIDS Day, and December 6, which marks the Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre.

The 16 Days Campaign has been used as an organizing strategy by individuals and groups around the world to call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women by:~
•raising awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional and international levels
•strengthening local work around violence against women
•establishing a clear link between local and international work to end violence against women
•providing a forum in which organizers can develop and share new and effective strategies
•demonstrating the solidarity of women around the world organizing against violence against women
•creating tools to pressure governments to implement promises made to eliminate violence against women

Friday, December 02, 2011

Sri Lankan Woman Blogger gathered momentum in New York

Keynote by the International Activist Bloggers

BlogHer '10 brought women bloggers from every corner of the blogosphere to New York in August 2010. The ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in New York was jam packed with women bloggers.Four women activist bloggers from Afghanistan, Argentina, Bahrain, and Sri Lanka were selected out of thousands of applicants from around the world. These four outstanding women bloggers were invited to participate at the 6th annual BlogHer conference held in New York.

Welcome to BlogHer in New York

BlogHer was founded in 2005 in California, USA. It encourages young and upcoming women bloggers, especially those who are engaged in activism through blogging.

Logo for the 6th BlogHer conference

Following is the International Activist Blogger Key Note by DushiYanthini Kanagasabapathipillai at BlogHer’10 Conference held on 7th of August 2010 at Hilton Hotel in New York.

Lisa Stone (Left), Co ~ Founder of BlogHer and DushiYanthini Kanagasabapathipillai, (Middle) International Activist Blogger

LISA STONE: Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai is a gifted journalist and photojournalist, and does a lot of courageous and of course challenging work in Sri Lanka. Her blog is very educative, informative and dedicated to ethical journalism. And I would love it if you could share with us your experience as a journalist and photojournalist?

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: Thank you, Lisa. Journalism is my PASSION. Journalism has been my childhood dream. I am very passionate about what I do. I have been working as a journalist for more than 17 years. I come from a minority community which is known as "Tamil". There has been a civil war which continued for nearly 30 years and was brought to an end in May 2009. I have traveled widely around the country as a journalist.

LISA STONE: You wrote some really beautiful slides about your goals for the site, talking about how it is non partisan. What are the advantages of that for a site like yours?

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: Well, Upholding my principles of ethics in journalism, I have decided to give a platform to all views. I want to be credible and unbiased. I don't like to break it at any given chance. I want to be balanced. I want to cover the issues related all communities in my country, which are Sinhla, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher.

I report what I see and hear. I want to be independent and I don't want to be seen as somebody else's product or somebody else's work. I don't want to be stamped! It's quite difficult. My work speaks and says it all!

LISA STONE: Fantastic. You know, it's interesting as a woman, as a Tamil minority journalist, was it easy getting your by line?

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: Not at all, I had to fight for my space and my byline especially in men dominated field of journalism. Being a woman and being a woman from a minority community, there are a lot of challenges which I have to face. I earned my byline and credibility through extended hard work.

LISA STONE: Well, I have put up some of the headlines that you shared with us. These are hard hitting pieces. I think that,it was very difficult for me to pick between these stories for one, but I'm glad we arrived at this one which is the story of the Jaipur Foot Center in north of Sri Lanka. The images are very powerful.I wonder if you could put this story in context. Why is there a foot center?

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: Because of the prolonged war in Sri Lanka, we have a lot of people who are disabled due to landmines, booby traps, unexploded ordinances and so on. Jaipur Foot Center in Jaffna was started in 1987 to serve the people who were in need. I thought of covering their untold tragedy. The task wasn’t easy. It was so painful for them to share their unforgettable experiences with me.

I had to spend a lot of time to get these photos as a photo journal, because at that time the war was still on in Sri Lanka in 2005. It's far from where I live and I had to travel by road. These are war victims, and I captured them in the north of Sri Lanka, which is called Jaffna. There is a big center for the disabled people where they make artificial limbs for the war victims. I really spent a week convincing them that this is neither political nor commercial. I simply wanted to help them through my journalistic work.

It was also quiet difficult as I was a woman holding my camera and covering the injured men amputees. They were paranoid and shy. And, I am glad to share that I managed to help them.

LISA STONE: Really? Do you know how much?

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: I don't know the exact amount, but they have a bank account that they gave me. I have included the bank account details along with the photo essay. People started contributing money to the needy in the north of Sri Lanka even from abroad. It's just expanding.

LISA STONE: Can you describe why it would be dangerous for the Jaipur Foot Center to appear in a blog? Why were they concerned about that? Why were they asking you for that assurance?

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: They are from the minority Tamil community, and they are based in north of Sri Lanka where there was war. They probably would have thought that it was too dangerous for them to speak to me at that time. Although I come from the same community, I had to really spend hours and hours sitting with the director to get the permission. But at the end it worked out well and they managed to help more needy people.

LISA STONE: Good. Do you want to talk about the land mine issue related to this?

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: The war was brought to an end in May 2009. Since the was has been going on for a very long period of time,it is quiet difficult to say how long it will take to demine the whole area. The demining is underway in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

LISA STONE: Will it ever end?

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: We don't know actually. Demining process is progressing. Mine awareness activities have been carried out by various orgainsations. And, there are mine signs put up in those areas as well.

LISA STONE: These are just five pictures from about 20 photographs in the post where you track the creation of a prosthetic device fitting, painting, how many patients did you meet when you were doing this story?

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: I managed to meet at least five, but they were camera shy, I had to spend more time with them to gain their confidence and not to break their privacy. Two men said yes to take photos of their activities after the artificial limb is fixed. So, I just followed them through and I spent two days with them at the center to capture the correct moments.

LISA STONE: Does your family support your work?

DUSHIYANTHINI PILLAI: Of Course! my family has been supporting me tremendously from the beginning of my career as a journalist.Their everlasting encouragement makes me feel truly energised.

And, I like to thank my few selected fiends who support.

LISA STONE: Thank you Dushi. You have some really fantastic advice for other activists around the world. I'm sure the other women bloggers will be inspired by your courageous and challenging work. Good Luck Dushi.


DushiYanthini Kanagasabapathipillai is the first Sri Lankan woman blogger to be selected and awarded scholarship for the BlogHer conference.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Women Waging Peace ~ Lived Experiences from Sri Lanka

Waging war is still thought of as a “man’s job". “Women understood the cost of the war and were genuinely interested in peace,” recalls retired Admiral Jonathan Howe, reflecting on his experience leading the U.N. mission in Somalia in the early 1990s.

Women as Peace Makers

DushiYanthini Kanagasabapathipillai is making her presentation ~ "Women Waging Peace"

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 Paragraph 8(b) states “Recognising women’s day today interventions in responding to conflict and promoting peace ~ supporting and sustaining this work”.

Women have proven time and again their unique ability to bridge seemingly insurmountable divides. So why aren’t they at the negotiating table?.International organisations are slowly recognizing the indispensable role that women play in preventing war and sustaining peace. The role of women as peacemakers can be expanded in many ways.

A U.N. official once stated that, in Africa, women are often excluded from negotiating teams because the war leaders “are afraid the women will compromise” and give away too much.

Women are often the most powerful voices for moderation in times of conflict. While most men come to the negotiating table directly from the war room and battlefield, women usually arrive straight out of
civil activism
” according to Swanee Hunt, Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

On 31st October 2000, the United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 1325 urging the Secretary ~ General to expand the role of women in U.N. field-based operations, especially among military observers, civilian police, human rights workers, and humanitarian personnel.

In November 2000, the European Parliament passed a hard ~ hitting resolution calling on European Union members (and the European Commission and Council) to promote the equal participation of women in diplomatic conflict resolution; to ensure that women fill at least 40 percent of all reconciliation, peacekeeping, peace-enforcement, peace building, and conflict-prevention posts; and to support the creation and strengthening of ngos (including women’s organizations) that focus on conflict prevention, peace building, and post ~ conflict reconstruction.

Women for Peace

In Sri Lanka’s history, women were very active in anti imperialist struggles. For example in 1933, women launched the Suriyamal movement against the Armistice Day or Poppy Day where poppies were sold to raise funds for the British Soldiers. The 1980s saw the coming together of women’s coalitions against the war. One of the first such women’s coalitions to be formed around the ‘national question’ was the Women’s Action Committee (WAC). The WAC also took up the call for the release of Tamil political prisoners and worked closely with the Movement for Inter Racial Justice and Equality (MIRJE), the Campaign for the Release of Political Prisoners and Women for Peace, a broad coalition of women calling for a political solution to the ethnic conflict established in 1984 raising the concerns of the northern mothers calling for the release of their loved ones detained or disappeared during the conflict. The Northern Mothers Front had links to the women’s groups in the South, particularly those associated with the Women’s Action Committee and the WAC maintained these links. The WAC also took up the call for the release of Tamil political prisoners and worked closely with the Movement for Inter Racial Justice and Equality (MIRJE), the Campaign for the Release of Political Prisoners and Women for Peace, a broad coalition of women calling for a political solution to the ethnic conflict established in 1984 according to Strategic Mapping of Women’s Peace Activism in Sri Lanka published by Women and Media Collective.

Girls Friendly Society and the Ceylon Women’s Union were founded in 1904, The Tamil Women’s Union was founded in 1909. Anti war protests, silent vigils, signature campaigns, fact finding missions, human rights monitoring, documentation and reporting, awareness raising, peace education, information sharing, counseling for war widows, support to survivors, tracing, reunification and legal advice were conducted by women in Sri Lanka.Women’s groups had to find innovative ways to create safe space for the women to gather to discuss the issues during the conflict.

The Women and Media Collective along with other women’s networks carried out many initiatives such as lobbying for the inclusion of women and gender concerns in the peace process, alliance forming across ethnic groups, facilitating a multi ethnic, inclusive fact finding mission to the North and East, carrying out advocacy work with the Norwegian facilitators, and lobbying with the bi ~ lateral and multi lateral donors to Sri Lanka for a women’s mechanism to the peace process.

Sub ~ Committee on Gender Issues

A Sub ~ Committee on Gender Issues (SGI) was established after the third session of negotiation between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or the Tamil Tigers in Oslo from 2nd of December 2002 to 5th of December 2002. The Sub ~ Committee o Gender Issues (SGI) was set up to secure the active participation of women and effective inclusion of gender issues in the peace process. This committee was represented by five women from the Government of Sri Lanka and five women from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The committee has decided to focus their efforts on sustain the peace process, resettlement, personal security and safety, infrastructure and services, livelihood and employment, political representation and decision making and reconciliation. But the Sub ~ Committee on Gender Issues short lived with two formal meetings and informal engagement after the breakdown of the peace talks in April 2003.

Since the Government chose to include feminists from the peace and
women’s movements in the SGI, the peace process gave women peace
activists the opportunity to act as a conduit between the top level leadership of the peace process and the local level communities affected by the conflict. Historically, women’s activism for peace in Sri Lanka had always sought to make and build links between women across ethnic and regional divisions enabling them to work through formal and informal coalitions and networks
” according to Kumudini Samuel ‘s Hidden from History. The Sri Lankan women’s movement has a history of such activism in the non formal arenas of peace building. The formal peace process was, unfortunately, too short lived for the women’s movement to realise this potential.

Challenges and Lessons Learnt

In Sri Lanka too, women’s organisations such as Women and Media Collective have continuously raised their voice for peace and against war. We as women in Sri Lanka have held many protests against the war and voiced for peace. We activists, feminists and women journalists worked hand in hand to raise our voice against war. Our meaningful and timely campaigns against the war were challenged, but we never gave up, instead we continued with courage. More often than not, those peace promoters are women!

As U.N. Secretary~General Kofi Annan remarked in October 2000 to the Security Council, “For generations, women have served as peace educators, both in their families and in their societies. They have proved instrumental in building bridges rather than walls.”

Sri Lanka's information market at the Locating Women Leaders in South Asia : Gender Summit in Dhulikhel, Nepal

Many leading activists from South Asia participated at the summit

The above research paper was presented by DushiYanthini Kanagasabapathipillai at the Locating Women Leaders in South Asia : Gender Summit 2011 held in Dhulikhel, Nepal from 3rd of November 2011 to 5th of November 2011