Rights activists have been abducted, detained and assaulted in the pursuit of their work in Sri Lanka, both during and after the war. Even under the present government, the crackdown on the freedom of expression continues, with activists subjected to surveillance, threats and outright violence over the past year. Additionally, women activists face other invisible barriers.
Women have played a key role in activism throughout history. Movements such as ‘Kulangana Samithi’ and ‘Mahila Samithi’ became important entry points for women into public life, and to working for women’s interests since the pre-Independence era. And yet, woman activists are perceived as somehow suspect for the most incredible reasons, for example, when speaking out about issues in public fora, traveling frequently, working with men in the field, or simply for using WhatsApp and Facebook – as those interviewed for this piece told Groundviews.
The vicious commentary levelled at women, when they do speak on controversial issues, is revealing. In March 2017, attorney-at-law Ermiza Tegal was subject to profane comments during an interview with BBC Sinhala, where she was speaking on the call for reform of the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA). In August 2017, Mariyasuresh Easwary, a key figure among family members of the disappeared participating in a continuous roadside protest in Mullaitivu, was threatened and assaulted by State Intelligence personnel.
Groundviews spoke to women activists in three provinces, who are working on a range of issues impacting their communities, from pushing to abolish discriminatory legislation and protecting survivors of harassment and abuse, to fighting corruption in local authorities. They tell of their experiences in working with those who have experienced technology-based violence, and how they respond when they find themselves targets for hate.
Read the full story on Sway here or embedded below.