The Sunday Times on the Web Plus
3rd May 1998

Front Page|
Editorial/Opinion| Business| Sports |
Mirror Magazine

Front Page
Mirror Magazine

Signs in the sand
Presented on the World Wide Web by Infomation Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.

Share those fears and tears

What is violence?

For too long these women have suffered in silence. They are the victims of domestic violence. They bear their secret accepting it as their cross or karma. But for the past ten years, WIN an organisation committed to bring solace and comfort to these abused women has provided some relief.

By Kumudini Hettiarachchi

It all happens behind closed doors and mos- tly in the loneliness of the night. The abuse, the threats, the beatings, the incest and even rape. The victims can be from a slum in Wanathamulla, a posh mansion in Cinnamon Gardens, a humble wattle-and-daub hut in a remote village in Batticaloa or just a middle class home in town. Often the victim does not like to talk about the violence at home — Sri Lankan society being so traditional and family-oriented, it is humiliating to tell anyone: "My husband beats me".

Share those fears and tearsIt is taboo. According to 45-year-old Swarna, a victim, "most people don't know what goes on here. They think we are a happily married couple." And even if the neighbours hear, no one interferes calling it a "private matter" among husband and wife. So the victims hide the marks of abuse, give excuses for bruises if office colleagues question them and carry on, dreading each day and what is to come, martyrs in their own home. They bear their secret burden with stoic resignation, accepting it as their "cross" or "karma".

They and their children are the sufferers of domestic violence. Theirs was a silent cry which went unheeded until 10 years ago. But there is hope for such victims, like Swarna and also pretty 24-year-old Ranjini who have found solace and comfort at the "Women in Need" (WIN) organisation. WIN was set up in May 1988 by a group of women committed to eliminating domestic and other forms of violence against women such as rape, sexual harassment and incest.

Ranjini, has walked into the WIN office on more than 20 occasions during a two-year period to escape from being battered by her husband. More and more women and children seek the help of WIN every year, as statistics show domestic violence is on the rise in Sri Lanka. Studies have shown that domestic violence against women is as high as 60 percent in some parts of the country. "When we started, we were not taken seriously," recalls charming Savithri Wijesekera, WIN's acting executive director. Few people had any confidence in the organisation, which was a pioneering effort, 10 years ago.

But the attitude of the people towards WIN, which is celebrating a decade in existence this year, has seen a vast change.Now, nearly 3,000 people seek the assistance of WIN's centres in Colombo, Kandy and Matara annually.

According to WIN domestic violence includes physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, social and economic abuse by one member of the family to control or dominate another. "Domestic violence occurs in families regardless of nationality, race or employment. Most victims are women, although a small number of men also suffer this abuse," Ms. Wijesekera, a lawyer says. "Once we had this mild-mannered man who walked into our offices saying he was being abused by his wife who couldn't control her temper and got into fits of rage. We spoke to both of them and their problems appear to be over," she explained. At least four men have sought WIN counselling, usually, to escape from hot-tempered spouses.

The organisation operates "crisis centres" where counselling, legal advice and befriender (people who would listen to the problems of others patiently) services are offered free of charge to victims of violence. It also has a temporary shelter, outside Colombo, for women and children who need refuge.

WIN volunteers, as a first step, "befriend" the victims and discuss their problems. "Talking to somebody who is sympathetic to their problems, can in itself provide some relief to the victim. The next step is to provide correct counselling to the victim, her husband and children, accordingly," a senior volunteer worker explained. Ranjini came to WIN's Colombo crisis centre, four years ago, after being beaten up by her husband. The assaults and battering occurred frequently, compelling Ranjini to seek WIN's help repeatedly.

Ranjini's problems were caused when her husband was drunk and whenever she had to ask him some money for household use. "The problems continued and we had to send Ranjini to our shelter for refuge. She has sought refuge in our shelter on at least six occasions now," Ms. Wijesekera said. Twice, assisted by WIN, she filed papers for legal separation but withdrew at the last minute apparently owing to pressure from her husband. In the last two years the assaults have reduced, partly because she has started working. "We hope she is okay," said Ms. Wijesekera.

Being economically dependent on the husband is one of the causes of domestic violence. A WIN counsellor explained that the lack of economic independence among women is a grassroots problem. Even many wealthy women have to plead with their husbands for every rupee. It would depend on the husband's 'mood' whether the request for money will be met with a slap. Why do women suffer battering in silence? Why don't they leave the misery and walk out on wife-beating husbands? According to WIN, there are many reasons why women prefer to grin and bear.

"I cannot think of leaving home. I have no proper home to go to nor do I want people to find out about all this. If people find out I will have difficulties giving my children in marriage is just not proper to obtain a divorce," laments Nimalka, a 46-year-old victim. Often the women want only the violence to end, not the relationship. In Sri Lanka, many are financially dependent on the abuser and fear losing the security of a home for themselves and their children. They are also worried about the social stigma attached to divorce and the possible ramifications of this on their children.

Thus legal separation, not divorce, is often the remedy when marriages break down. WIN says the abuser may also threaten the victim with greater violence should she attempt to leave, thereby strengthening his hold over her. "Many women simply feel they have nowhere to go or no one to turn to for help," a WIN note said. Therefore, the organisation's centres are open throughout the year and people can walk in at any time to seek guidance or counselling on family, marital, legal or financial problems. Its shelter-home has about eight women and their children— who have fled their homes from domestic violence or are victims of rape or incest — at a time, and is run by a matron.

WIN says that gender-based inequality is one of the contributing factors towards domestic violence and has organised several programmes across the country aimed at empowering women in areas like legal awareness, savings and credit, skills training and income generation.

"We find that a little bit of income generation - even working at home to raise some income - helps to solve the victim's problems," said Ms. Wijesekera. The organisation also helps sexually-abused children and once intervened when hearing, from newspaper reports, of two girls, a two and five year old, being sexually molested by their father.

WIN also offers loans through a private credit scheme to assist women in setting up small businesses, conducts awareness programmes on domestic and general violence and legal rights for schoolchildren and provides training to pre-school teachers and law students.

What is violence?

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE includes physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, economic and social abuse by one member of a family to control or dominate another. It robs the victim of all self-esteem and can also be life-threatening. Children are not only psychologically affected, but also may develop similar patterns of behaviour.

* physical abuse — punching, hitting, slapping, shoving, choking and use of weapons.

* emotional and psychological abuse — demeaning the woman in public, humiliating her, making comments designed to make her feel worthless and threatening to injure her.

* economic abuse — depriving her of basic needs such as food and money.

* social abuse — depriving her of contact with friends or relatives, constantly following her and monitoring her movements .

RAPE is sexual intercourse which is performed without a woman's consent. In many cases it involves violence, but in all cases it is a violation of a woman's rights over her body.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT is sexual behaviour that is unwanted. It happens in the workplace, on the streets and on public transport.

INCEST is abusive sexual activities imposed upon a younger person by any person in his/her direct or extended family


Women in Need (WIN)
20, Deal Place,
Colombo 3

Phone: 575765
Fax: 503175

In Matara:
Women in Need,
Sarvodaya Centre, Pallemulla,
Phone: (041) 22145/23022

In Kandy:
Women in Need,
Mahila Samithi Centre,

More Plus *  The making of God King-part 11 - False start

Plus Archive

Front Page| News/Comment| Editorial/Opinion| Business| Sports | Mirror Magazine

Hosted By LAcNet

Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to

The Sunday Times or to Information Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.