Once, I was seated in a communal conveyance when I felt the testicle of a middle-aged man pressing against my shoulder. At that moment, feeling the inconvenience I had two options to follow: to ignore or to react. However, I managed to get away from the scene after confronting the man properly. This is only a first-hand experience, but you may hear such from people around you daily. As much as these encounters are minor, the concurrence is inevitable. Impelling these scenarios to the limelight can do a lot better at educating the society about who’s at stake: the women.
Like any other country, in Sri Lanka, sexual harassment is widespread. Whether you travel by a bus or a train–which are the traditional methods of transportation viable and utilized daily–the chances of such incidents are bound to happen. When most of these incidents take place, the onlookers are silent to acknowledge the severity of this crime. Is that because the victims happen to be women? Or is the legal structure that has no competence in executing a proper convict? Or is it a natural behaviour of men that women to need to apprehend about men?
Truth to be told, the gender overview of Sri Lankan society displays a very “submissive” aspect of women in particular. Hundred years ago, in the orthodox, colonial, and post-independent generation in Sri Lanka was highly impacted by the liberal laws, and gender inequality norms, where women suffered throughout, instituted by the British government. Starting a family by late teenage years to taking care of the household might have still implanted in the minds of the people in the 21st-century society in Sri Lanka. Having said that, a survey conducted by the UNFPA Sri Lanka revealed that 90% of women have been susceptible to sexual harassment, and only 4% of them reacted by calling the police. While 4% of women in Sri Lanka have the fortitude of combating the inequity, the rest are inclined to stay put. It could be the unceasing fear of judgment because women are supposed to be good-mannered and making a commotion is looked upon as “unladylike.” The standard of women has never elevated to a higher pitch and this could be a reason why the popular belief revolves around the opinion that women should surrender and conform.
According to the judicial structure in Sri Lanka, it criminalizes sexual harassment as a punishable offence that violates basic human rights. Pestering with unsolicited sexual actions or by use of words, or sexual annoyance are inclusive to sexual harassment state in the penal code but a question pops up as to why this matter has a slight tendency to dismissal. Deputy Director of the Children and Women’s Division of Sri Lanka Police have spoken about the issue in a local newspaper saying, “This is because the police complaint is a long procedure which delays and kills time, during which process some victims change their minds. Some women just ignore, not aware that it is a crime, some are afraid of the law and do not like to go to the police and the courts, as the whole country would get to know. Women from traditional families are shy to complain.” Surely, the lack of awareness about legal relief plays a crucial role in women’s susceptibility to these harassments are inflated.Since childhood, young girls are moulded according to a specific cultural upbringing by reinforcing the proper way of dress code, and being obedient which results in bowing their heads to male dominance. Therefore, in an encounter such as this could end up normalizing the behaviour of the men because they are “men.” This problem should not be treated mildly. The more the bystanders choose to ignore as this is not their “business,” the more it takes the back seat. So, abiding by this usual pressure would deter the engagement of defying the sexual advances in public transportation.
Apart from the psychological aspects of the perpetrators committing to these vile deeds, the engagement of bystander intervention would be the ideal way to hinder the seriousness of sexual harassment. It is recognized by the Oxfam Sri Lanka in 2018 to be a successful first step in reaching the drawback. In my personal opinion, the complication of sexual harassment are more prominent in Asian countries as opposed to the West. But in Sri Lanka, the mainstream socio-cultural norms, absence of legal awareness, and the emphasis of patricentric values cause more disturbance to the harassments. Nonetheless, we are not too late to make a change.
(This article is not directed to any hate rather stating an opinion based on experience and statistics.)