Jun 12, 2021

Sri Lanka estate females suffering violence, child sex abuse: action needed: study

Around a third of Sri Lanka’s female estate workers have suffered violence and sexual abuse as adults and had also been childhood sex victims with male dominance, close living quarters and isolation from mainstream society contributing, a study said.

Though Trade Unions are a powerful institution with strong influence on this community they did little to address sexual and gender based violence (SGBV).

“It is essential to “buy in” the leadership on the significance of SGBV as a major determinant of health, through effective advocacy using the findings of the study and work with them,” the report by charities Oxfam and Adventist Development and Relief Agency International said.

“Although most of the administrative staff and care providers are aware of the issues of SGBV, their service delivery is affected by apathy, disbelief, denial and lack of prioritization of addressing SGBV.

“The findings of the study provide strong evidence to ‘jump start’ the system to be more active, receptive and effective to assist the survivors.”

About 10 percent of the women in the study had suffered sexual violence within the last 12 months 30 percent had experienced it sometime during their lifetime.

The survey among 393 household in Nuwara Eliya was part of a wider study run from 2017 in the districts of Nuwara Eliya, Matale and Moneragala

Gender-based Violence (GBV) came in the form of sexual violence, physical violence, emotional violence, economic abuse and social abuse (controlling behaviour).

About 19.7 percent had suffered Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), of any kind, during the previous 12months.

About 13.5 percent of the women had suffered some form of sexual abuse before the age of 15 years, with parents, parents-in-law and teachers being the most common perpetrators.

Fully 72.5 percent of perpetrators were family members with parents 17.5 percent, parents-in-law 17.5 percent, sibling 2.5 percent and other members of the family 30 percent.

“This is a significant finding and needs further study,” the authors of the report said.

“The hierarchical power structure with the father being the head is possibly strongly-entrenched and the poorly ventilated and crowded housing within the community could possibly contribute to this unexpected finding.

“Parents and parents in law appear as key “helpers” on one hand and also as a prominent group of ”violators” on the other hand.

“Therefore, the “elders’ ‘ particularly the male parents/parents in law: the power holders should be the target group for awareness raising intervention to address GBV in this community.”

Official avenues of redress such as the Grama Niladhari, police or the supervisor of the estate was not utilized much by women.

Only 2.6 percent of the women had divuldged their experience to police or Grama Niladari (village headman/woman).

“This possibly indicates the lack of trust or constraints in access to formal services is a challenge for women and provides a space for urgent action,” the report said.

“Childhood sexual abuse is a devastating event recognized under Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that can have a long term impact and is an important determinant of the individual’s health.”

About 36.8 percent had ‘not told anybody’ while 34.2 percent had spoken to one of the parents, 13.2 percent to a parent in law, 10.5 percent to the teacher, 7.9 percent to the midwife.

Grama Niladhari and Public Health Midwife units are overworked in estates because they have to cover around 1,500 families whereas in the rest of the country they cover about 200 to 300 families. Public Health Midwives found it difficult to cover more area due to the terrain.

“Since the Grama Niladhari are overburdened with other issues they would give lesser importance to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV),” the report said.

Forty percent said they saw their mother beaten by the father, 53 percent said not and 4.3 percent did not answer.

The proportion of women who experienced both Sexual and Physical Violence during the last 12 months was 3.7% while 20.1% had experienced at some point during their lifetime.

The proportion of women who experienced both Sexual or Physical Violence during the last 12 months was 13.0 percent while 37.7 percent had experienced it at some point during their lifetime.

Although most women were employed and earned a substantial income, the power and opportunity to utilize the money is limited among women.

“The “power holders” (husband/partner) tend to use violence to get money earned by the women, which makes the potential source of power defunct,” the report said.