UN Women UK and the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice held a joint event hosted by Winckworth Sherwood to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and kick-start 16 days of activism which came to a close with International Human Rights Day.
The works of an artist currently in Sri Lanka were presented. They included her pictures from Mullaitivu, family photo albums recovered whilst shooting in Mullivaikkal, and a series of images of hands belonging to one family of survivors from the Northern district of Mullaitivu – coupled with hand written texts inscribed directly onto the surfaces of the images by the survivors themselves.
As the artist said, “I hope to evoke a crystallization of the themes surrounding the unseen, the hidden, and the unrepresentable in the context of post war Sri Lanka and to engage with the threshold lying between fact and fiction, politics and poetics.”
Three speakers then addressed the issue of the challenges faced by Tamil women and girls in Sri Lanka.
Frances Harrison, the journalist and author of “Still Counting the Dead: Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War”, spoke about sexual violence in Sri Lanka. She offered a harrowing account of the personal stories of many people she had met – many of whom had chosen to share their stories with her precisely because they wanted to make sure this never happened to anybody else.
Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director of the United Nations Association, then discussed the role of the UN in ending violence against Women and Girls, the successes and failures of the UN system, and how much more work is needed, particularly given the incredible scale of the problem around the world, as well as in Sri Lanka specifically.
Shivani Jegarajah, a Human Rights barrister from Michael Mansfield’s Chambers, then discussed whether women in occupied war zones and post conflict zones should be considered a protected group with respect to their refugee status in the United Kingdom, and made the argument that Tamil Women in the Northern Province most certainly should.
A Q& A then followed which primarily focussed on how best we could help the survivors of sexual violence in Sri Lanka. It was suggested that participants should lobby their members of parliament to demand fairer treatment for Sri Lankan asylum seekers, and that they should support charities founded with the purpose of supporting the survivors of sexual violence and torture.
Singer Maya Arulpragasam (M.I.A.) attended the event to show her support.
After the event Frances Harrison sold copies of her books. Proceeds and donations were split 50/50 between UN Women and Support a Survivor of Torture – a new charity established by Frances Harrison to support survivors of sexual torture in Sri Lanka.