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Spreading awareness on the access to SRHR 

  • YANSL launches a series of videos

Youth Advocacy Network Sri Lanka (YANSL) has developed a series of videos that attempts to learn and spread awareness about the access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) during and prior to the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak in Sri Lanka with regard to the LGBTQ+ community, women, and girls and people with disabilities. 

The videos are created using a thematic approach, where the main focus is on justice for marginalised and vulnerable communities. Under this overarching theme, the videos are focused on sub-themes such as SRHR and economic independence/empowerment, SRHR and violence, and SRHR and mental health. The video series, officially launched at a virtual event held last Thursday (28 October), is instrumental in understanding the ground realities of the mentioned vulnerable communities, and the outcomes will be useful in evidence-based policy making. 

Natasha Edirisinghe of the community and development fund, and Women human rights defender and Sri Lanka-Afghanistan Search for Common Grounds Gender Advisor Nadini Ratnaraja, spoke about the experience of women and girls prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. She stated that the ones who live in a cultural bubble still consider CSE as something bad that children should not be taught: “Since girls have not been taught comprehensive sexual health education, they may end up with unwanted pregnancies and not know what to do.” She further added that currently in Sri Lanka, over a 100 illegal abortions take place, as women do not know that means of safe sex exist.

For men, she explained that because they do not have a proper sex education, they tend to let out their sexual frustration even when they see a women walk on the road, simply because they don’t know any better. “Because of this, the patriarchy expects women to stay home and do the household chores, their only job to provide men with sex and give birth to children,” Ratnaraja explained. This causes a lack of empathy towards women, and because men don’t understand how women feel, she stated that they feel that it is okay to touch a woman’s body without consent for their sexual gratification.

Ratnaraja also explained that the pandemic requires people to write down their phone number for contact tracing at any location they enter. “Men then take down their numbers and harass women with unwanted calls and pictures again because they don’t empathise with women, nor do they understand that this action will make a woman uncomfortable, so Covid has caused a surge in harassment for women,” she said. 

Sharing a personal experience, she said that the first time she experienced non-consensual sexual violence was at the age of 12, in a bus, even when she was clad in school uniform, after that, every week, she would experiance some form of harassment from men, she explained, adding that this is a common issue most women face. “Even when speaking of these incidents to people, the most common response is: ‘What were you wearing?’ or ‘Why were you out alone?’ Women should not have to be policed on what they wear, it is up to men to realise that women are not objects and have their own free will as well,” she said, adding that it is high time we stop asking these questions and work towards change.

She highlighted that this is why it is so important that awareness is raised on these topics and programmes to begin sexual education for children, because only then can we work towards a harassment free society by making the world a safer space for women and girls, as well as for healthier men. 

She added that the initiative taken by YANSL is very valuable as we know that even in our Constitution, health and reproduction is not recognised as a human right. 

The event expressed that YANSL believes that work should be done from the grassroots and only this could be the key to the effective implementation of policies. Accountability in all levels is the key to transformatic development in youth; our only hope is to change society, one series of education at a time.