A safe space #SheDecides whether, when, and with whom

By Dimithri Wijesinghe

The Rotaract Club of the University of Colombo – Faculty of Arts and She Decides Sri Lanka got together to create a safe space for young people to speak out about their needs and propose solutions on how policies surrounding decisions made on your health should be shaped. The event was essentially an open mic held at the Faculty of Arts on Monday, 9 September at 4.30 p.m.

She Decides is a global movement to promote, provide, protect, and enhance the fundamental rights of every girl and woman, a declaration of support for the basic human rights of girls and women, and representing She Decides Sri Lanka were media personalities and avid activists Hirushi Jayasena and Sonali Silvaa, who both moderated the event.

The primary goal behind the initiative was to provide a forum for the youth to express their thoughts. The organisers expressed: “It is not often we talk about the sexual and reproductive health rights we have in Sri Lanka, may it be due to the discomfort surrounding the topic or the lack of a safe environment to voice out one’s opinions on it.” The thought was widely echoed in the gathering by all the girls and the few boys present.

The event was unique in that it was a casual setting with knowledgeable youth sharing their experiences, thoughts, and what they’ve learned about the demographic who is affected. There was a wide variety of topics covered, including LGBTIQ youth matters. Sriyal Nilanka made an appearance to set the record straight about people living with HIV (PLHIV), opening the floor up for any and all questions with regard to PLHIV. The interactive sessions were the most eye-opening, with many university students expressing what many Sri Lankan youth have been voicing for decades – that sexual and reproductive health education is gravely lacking in the country, and while the syllabi may be altered, the teachers’ mindsets and society’s outlook are yet to have a real change, thereby leaving the youths in the dark.

“Every girl and woman should be able to safely exercise her right to decide for herself what she does with her body, who she shares her body with, and whether she wants to have children. She must have access to education and information about her body and her options, modern contraception, and safe abortion,” a sentiment expressed by She Decides, not at all shared in many parts of the world.

Speaking to some attendees, the majority being young girls just starting out their university education, they all expressed similar concerns about how decisions about them are being made by people who couldn’t possibly understand and stated that it is high time the youths were allowed a safe space to express their concerns.

The facts, ideas, and solutions were gathered with the promise of presenting them at a youth forum where the youths will be able to make a stand about issues concerning them, by themselves.