Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka)
NEW REALITIES FOR TECH-FACILITATED GENDER VIOLENCE IN SRI LANKA
In a 21st century context, it is difficult to ignore the impact technology has on us. Often however, the positives are highlighted far beyond the growing negatives of being a part of a connected world. A common concernin Sri Lanka (and the world at large)is that online violence is not viewed as seriously as physical forms of violence. This in turn has enabled myriad forms of technology facilitated violence to manifest at dangerous levels, especially causing harm to women and girls in the country. In order to combat this, shed more light around Technology facilitated Violence Against Women and Girls (TFVAWG) and advocate for more serious national policy and prevention, Women in Need with the technical expertise of Social Scientists Association and lead researcher Attorney at
Law, Ms Thiagi Piyadasa launched the initiative in 2019.
Women In Need (WIN) having observed a steady growth in cyber related complaints at its regional crisis centres, hotlines and referrals from multiple service providers and organisation, is on a mission to address this increasing trend in cyber-based sexual and gender violence in Sri Lanka. WIN therefore wanted to get a better understanding of the prevalence of the issue as well as assess levels of public awareness, and identify the roles of government and private institutions in addressing these issues. The study included a qualitative component conducted in the Colombo, Matara, Anuradhapura, Batticaloa and Jaffna Districts as well as a national quantitative survey among 1533 participants (50.4% men, 49.6% women). While the results of this layered and complex survey were initially presented in
June 2020, Sri Lanka was still in the thick of the first wave of the pandemic – as such, it was decided to release the research findings to the public this year instead.
Beginning in September 2021 leading up to January 2022, Women In Need’s (WIN) campaign will bring together theorists, practitioners, the authorities and other experts in a series of online talks and events while also releasing extensive and informative digital campaigns under 3 core focus areas related to TFVAWG: Prevalence & Impact, Awareness & Prevention, and Action & Response. The focus on the ‘prevalence & impact’ of TFVAWG in Sri Lanka will give prominence to the increasing and varying forms of technology facilitated violence against women and girls in the country, parallel to the violence perpetrated on women and girls offline. The area of ‘awareness and prevention’ is essential given the lack of awareness among the general populace especially the youth, regarding the vulnerabilities and realities of the virtual world.the final focus area on ‘action & response’ will emphasise on next steps Sri Lanka should take to strengthen laws and policies, engaging key stakeholders and sensitizing personnel in addressing this complex form of violence which has gravely added to the discrimination and abuse perpetrated on women.
The initiative will also see a dedicated Website which will also host this information, a hand 24-page project book that will present a many unknown and but necessary facts, figures and insights from the research and a series of in-depth interviews in the form of a project video. Several other elements will also come to life such as in-depth talks and other online initiatives to help Lankan authorities and audiences alike have a better understanding of this multifaceted problem. A key aspect of this is to help people understand that our current TFVAWG understanding is very low and in turn leads to low resource allocation to combat the issues. Further, audiences need to have a better understanding to the extent of the ramifications which techfacilitated crimes can create.
For instance, passing off TFVAWG as a harmless crime prevents us from understanding how cybercrimes can lead to physical crimes, blackmail, extortion, identity theft and more.
The authorities are also ill equipped to deal with such crimes, not having access to the resources or knowledge required to combat such crimes.
Further, when a cybercrime is reported by a woman or girl at a police station, such investigations are not carried out by the actual Women and Children’s Desk (WCD), but rather by the station’s Minor Offences arm.
This is often due to the WCD not being sufficiently resourced. At the same time, officers assigned to the Minor Offences branch are not trained in gender sensitive methods. Therefore, women are often dissatisfied with the police response when reporting Tfvawgrelated crimes. This in turn leads to fewer cybercrimes being reported by one of the most prevalent groups of victims: women and girls.
WIN’S objectiveon engaging with multiple actors and working at different levels on the subject of tech facilitated violence is to foster the drafting of a new law to specifically address TFVAWG and to strengthen the existing legal framework and law enforcement machinery to safeguard women and girls online, as well offline. Currently, a plethora of laws have to be invoked in order for a cybercrime against gender to be brought to some form of justice. In the interim, WIN also wants to ensure that the public are aware of other related laws that women and girls can make use of in the interim for their own safety until such time as a new law is drafted and passed in parliament. The argument here is that many laws that do exist to protect women, albeit not specifically related to TFVAWG, but they can function as temporary safety measures. For this to happen however, a campaign dedicated to educating the general public is essential – and is included in WIN’S communications activities. The campaign which is set to roll out in all three national languages promises to be a memorable and ambitious one, with widespread goals to help change the technology landscape and make it a safer place for Sri Lankan girls and women.
“Awareness and prevention is essential given the lack of awareness among the general populace especially the youth”