Know Your Law: Sexual Harassment Should Not Go Unreported

“Sexual harassment can take many different forms from catcalls on the street, to demands for sexual favours in return for benefits or entitlements at the workplace to harassment in public transport. It can therefore take place in the street, in the workplace, in universities and in public transport. It is so pervasive in the context of Sri Lanka that many of us are conditioned from childhood to accept sexual harassment as a way of life and not to question it.” (Shyamala Gomez – Violence Against Women)

Sri Lanka is a country where sexual harassment happens on a daily basis. From ‘simple’ incidents in public transportation to the recent incident of ‘ragging’ at University of Peradeniya, sexually harassed victims emerge into the society. In proportion to the unreported cases, the social vulnerability increases while making the community harmful and unsafe. Therefore it is a social duty to stand against sexual harassment.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature,  by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center of University of Michigan:

  • The conduct is made as a term or condition of an individual’s employment, education or living environment.
  • The acceptance or refusal of such conduct is used as the basis or a factor in decisions affecting an individual’s employment, education or living environment.
  • The conduct unreasonably impacts an individual’s employment or academic performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for that individual’s employment, education or living environment.

Although the perpetrator may view such acts as complimentary, harmless or as a flattering joke, if the act is unwelcome, humiliating, disgusting, revolting and repulsive to the recipient, it is ] sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can occur in private or public life, between family and friends or in  the workplace, public places and transportation. Both men and women can be perpetrators and victims.

Types of Sexual Harassment

Any kind of physical, verbal or nonverbal  conduct of sexual nature is considered as sexual harassment and it varies from showing pornographic materials, circulation of obscene visuals and emails and comments that make the person who hears uncomfortable. The American Psychological Association categorises sexual harassment as:

  1. Gender Harassment: Generalized sexist statements and behaviour that convey insulting or degrading attitudes about a person’s gender. Examples include insulting remarks, offensive graffiti, obscene jokes or humor about sex or women in general.
  2. Seductive Behaviour: Unwanted, inappropriate and offensive sexual advances. Examples include repeated unwanted sexual invitations, insistent requests for dinner, drinks or dates, persistent letters, phone calls and other invitations.
  3. Sexual Bribery: Solicitation of sexual activity or other sex-linked behavior by promise of reward; the proposition may be either overt or subtle. (quid-pro-quo / something for something harassment)
  4. Sexual Coercion: Coercion of sexual activity or other sex-linked behavior by threat of punishment; examples include negative performance evaluations, withholding of promotions, threat of termination.
  5. Sexual Imposition: Gross sexual imposition (such as forceful touching, feeling, grabbing) or sexual assault.

Of these five types of behavior, gender harassment is by far the most common, followed by seductive behavior. The “classic” forms of sexual harassment (bribery and coercion) are in fact relatively uncommon, while other forms of sexual imposition happen more frequently than most people think. Recent court decisions have also found that certain types of offensive visual displays in the workplace, such as pornography, can be considered sexual harassment.

Myths and Facts

Texas Women’s University  Counselling  Centre has identified these factors as the misconceptions built upon sexual harassment.

MYTH: Sexual harassment is rare. 
FACT: Sexual harassment is extremely widespread. It touches the lives of 40 to 60 percent of working women, and similar proportions of female students in colleges and universities.

MYTH: The seriousness of sexual harassment has been exaggerated; most so-called harassment is really trivial and harmless flirtation. 
FACT: Sexual harassment can be devastating. Studies indicate that most harassment has nothing to do with “flirtation: or sincere sexual or social interest. Rather, it is offensive, often frightening and insulting to women. Research shows that women are often forced to leave school or jobs to avoid harassment; may experiences serious psychological and health-related problems.

MYTH: Many women make up and report stories of sexual harassment to get back at their employers or others who have angered them. 
FACT: Research shows that less than one percent of complaints are false. Women rarely file complaints are false. Women rarely file complaints even when they are justified in doing so.

MYTH: Women who are sexually harassed generally provoke harassment by the way they look, dress and behave. 
FACT: Harassment does not occur because women dress provocatively or initiate sexual activity in the hope of getting promoted and advancing their careers. Studies have found that victims of sexual harassment vary in physical appearance, type of dress, age, and behavior. The only thing they have in common is that over 99% of them are female.

MYTH: If you ignore harassment, it will go away. 
FACT: It will not. Research has shown that simply ignoring the behavior is ineffective; harassers generally will not stop on their own. Ignoring such behavior may even be seen as agreement or encouragement.

Consequences

The Stop Violence Against Women website (STOPVAW), a project of The Advocates for Human Rights has identified  that  sexual harassment affects the victim physically, mentally, financially and it also has global costs! 

The recipient may face psychological effects such as depression, anxiety, shock, denial, anger, fear, frustration, irritability, insecurity, embarrassment, feelings of betrayal, confusion, feelings of being powerless, shame, self-consciousness, low self-esteem, guilt, self-blame and isolation. 

Physically it may cause headaches, lethargy, gastrointestinal distress, dermatological reactions, weight fluctuations, sleep disturbances, nightmares, phobias, panic, reactions and sexual problems.

There is decreased work performance as the victim focuses on dealing with harassment; due to illness from the stress or increased absenteeism to avoid harassment, the person ends up with sick leave without pay; sexual harassment can end in termination due to retaliation from the harasser or due to decreased work performance resulting from harassment; and the cost to relocate to another city or find another job, loss of job references, or loss of career will financially affect the victim, which will negatively impact the esteem and productivity of the workplace or institution.

The Law Says No, So Should You

Sexual Harassment is a criminal offence in Sri Lanka and there are many laws and regulations for its prohibition. According to Article 12 (2) of the Constitution, discriminating against a person based on his or her sex is a violation of such person’s fundamental right to equality. 

Sexual Harassment is criminally punishable under Section 345 of the Penal Code (Amendment) Act, No. 22 of 1995:

“Whoever, by assault or use of criminal force, sexually harasses another person or by the use of words or actions, causes sexual annoyance or harassment to such other person commits the offence of sexual harassment and shall on conviction be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years or with fine or with both and may also be ordered to pay compensation of an amount determined by court to the person in respect of whom the offence was committed for the injuries caused to such person.”

This includes unwelcome sexual advances by words or action used by a person in authority (eg. police, armed service personnel, school officials, medical officials etc.), unwelcome sexual advances in the workplace, misuse of the internet, and emails that are obscene or make allegations of a sexual nature in order to harass, intimidate or embarrass. 

Encouraging or condoning sexual harassment is also a crime under the law.

Under the Section 2 (2) of Prohibition of Ragging and other forms of Violence in Educational Institutions Act, No. 20 of 1998, it is stated that if a person causes sexual harassment while ragging any student or a member of the staff of an educational institution, he or she will be given a imprisonment of a minimum of ten years, and may also be ordered to pay compensation of an amount determined by court.

“A person who, whilst committing ragging causes sexual harassment or grievous hurt to any student or a member of the staff, of an educational institution shall be guilty of an offence under this Act and shall on conviction after summary trial before a Magistrate be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years and may also be ordered to pay compensation of an amount determined by court, to the person in respect of whom the offence was committed for the injuries caused to such person.”

Why Does it Go Unreported?

The Report of the Leader of the Opposition’s Commission on the Prevention of Violence against Women and the Girl Child (2014) states that,

 “the high incidence of street-based sexual harassment that is a virtually unreported crime, condoned and [invisibilized]  that occurs with rampant impunity. Sexual harassment in the workplace is equally insidious and brings into play unequal patriarchal power relations that are not dealt with in any seriousness either in the public sector or in the private sector.”

Many factors cause the concealment of sexual harassment: fear of making matters worse, low self-esteem, lack of awareness of legal sphere, fear of harming one’s reputation, low encouragement by the law enforcement authorities for complaints, its acceptance as a common occurrence, common practice of blaming victims rather than the aggressor, and the fear of death threats.

 All these factors result the humiliation of the victims making matters far more worse for them.

Taking Action

It is recommended to take immediate action after an incident of sexual harassment. Directly refusing sexual  actions, informing a responsible party and standing up for someone else when they are being harassed  are the most essential measures.

Taking legal action against an offender is recommended because it prevents any further repercussions caused by the offender. Furthermore, less people will be affected by their harassment.

If sexual harassment  takes place,

  • on public transportation: it can be reported to the National Transport Commission –1955,  the police hotline 119, and the women’s helpline by the Ministry of Women’s and Child Affairs-1938
  • in an educational institute: you can report it to the principal, dean, registrar or director for an inquiry and action. A university or institution may have a code on sexual harassment. Check whether such a code has been adopted, and if so follow the procedure given. Report it the incident to the police  if no action is taken by the education institute.
  • in the workplace: report it to your superior, human resource manager or any other authority. If the company or institution has a sexual harassment policy, follow the procedure laid out. You can also report it to the police at the same time. (Give precise information to the police by writing the incident down.)

You Do Not Have to be Ashamed to Call Yourself a Feminist, and Here’s Why.

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Once at a discussion about ‘Gender Equality’, a fine young man stood up and proudly said, “Women get to walk in free for certain parties, but men don’t, where’s the equality there? You do not want to lose privileges you already have.” Yeah, so have it. It is not like women protested to have that privilege. No woman died of hunger for that. No woman killed herself for that. They have had 1001 issues to use those methods. Way more serious than the privilege to walk in free for the parties.

Just because you know martial arts, it does not mean every girl will kick and survive from a rapist. Just because you have parent protection, it does not mean every girl will be saved from being a forced prostitute. Just because you are smart and empowered, it does not mean every woman has the strength to say no to harassment.

Women were deprived. For centuries. Gender mattered. For opportunities, education, employment and representation. It is about why ‘women’ are more vulnerable? Is it about the biology or are you ‘meant to’ treat yourself vulnerable? From Emily Davison who stepped in front of King George V’s horse for the suffrage of women, to Malala Yousafzai who took bullets in the head while campaigning for girls’ education; Women rebelled for the lost opportunities.Questioned the hierarchy. Sought answers. Why lose the equality for being born a ‘woman’?

FEMINISM. The movement for the lost equality. Or the equality never had in the first place. Do not just look around you. Look beyond. With empathy. The need exists.

As Little As a Spark

Goals, achievements and life long dreams. Labelled as priorities.Motivated to chase. That is where the happiness lies. Dreaming and continued.

What if, I say, what if once you reach there, you do not feel the flutter in your heart.A wrong decision made? Missed something? 

To enjoy mother’s pat? To laught at friend’s lame joke? To thank a stranger who helped? To enjoy your brunch? To tap to the music? To feel the wind in the hair? 

Feel the beauty.Of little things. And why not big things. All of them. Just live the life. The way you always wanted.

None Has Defined Love Yet, But

When a mother gives a warm hug, when a father strokes head, when siblings pillow fight, when a couple kiss under the stars,when friends highfive on your win,when a dog awaits until you come home, when a stranger picks your fallen books and when you let yourself chase that dream.

In a world full of systems, methods, definitions and formulas you try to define “Love”. The most indescribable entity,the most mistakenly understood concept, the most commonly felt emotion in the universe.

Something to be felt. Something to be experienced. A light in your heart and a sparkle in your eye. An unconditional longing. One of the most beautiful things to treasure. An inner oxygen to keep you alive. So Love.Without Defining. 

What is the Bullshit about ‘New Year New Me’ ? : Don’t Judge Yet

new-year-goals

When you started seeing the fireworks flashing the sky, Television channels counting down the seconds for you and receiving the New Year greetings from social networks to phone calls, it was a new beginning. I mean it really was right? ‘This is going to be my year!’ All excited and enthusiastic.’So what are your new year resolutions?’ Ummm I don’t know, passing the exams, getting a promotion,having a relationship, winning a lottery.

What is so special about New Year anyway? (Not a rhetoric) You have passed  New Years equivalent to your age. So you had ‘new’ yourselves every single time? Determination, Goals and Vision are key aspects to live, but not for a mere year. Delusional Determination.(Oh, and the ‘Time is relative’ folks.)

The  problem is you just wait to start studying until 4.00 p.m. cause 3.55 seems, I don’t know, improper? Time used as an excuse.An excuse for unwillingness.Pusillanimity.Apathy.Train yourself to start it fresh, rectify the mistakes, be a better self when needed. At the very instance. This is not negativity. This is the”realistic” optimism. When you specifically wait for a year to change yourself, I mean seriously, that is where the bullshit happens.

‘New Me’ is always right, when you want a better change. Do not let the year decide it. Have fun at New Year celebrations but be yourself for the rest of your life. Happy New Year!

A Happy Short Movie. 

Scientists say, when we die each one of us gets a 7 minute brain activity. The brain releases a massive amount of hallucinogenic chemical DMT. The life we spent, the things we did, the words we spoke might flash before us. Our very own short movie.Directed for many years. Edited for 7 minutes.

The book you never read. The movie you never watched.The place you never visited.The dreams you never followed.The risks you never took.The love you never expressed.The grudges you never sorted. The misunderstandings you never understood. The people you never valued. The mistakes you never forgave.

We constantly groan about Monday Mornings.Exam Stress.Body Flaws.Mental Depression.So on and on.But at the point you realize how short life is you instantly start to enjoy the moment. To value every single minute.To live your life.

Take the risks.Endure the obstacles.Strengthen your soul.Fight the demons.Follow your dreams.Love all endlessly.Hope you watch an amusing one.You never know.

Whether you are a “Volunteer” or not

You might already be an active and a passionate volunteer or you might have that passion and interest yet find it hard to volunteer with busy schedules or simply you do not have any interest in volunteering. Yet the concept of “Volunteerism” plays a vital part in the day to day life of all of us. Generally “Volunteering” is an altruistic activity where an individual or group provides services for no financial gain “to benefit another person, group or an organization”. Since 1600, where volunteering was considered as a military participation, to now, it is known as an activity which benefits both the volunteer as well as the served people or communities in improving quality of life. Today volunteerism varies to several categories: 
1.) Volunteering as service-learning programs – Many educational levels use volunteering as a service learning program for their students as they gain intelligence, experience, skills and commitment to address human and community needs while acquiring an education which involves both heart and mind.

2.) Skill based Volunteering – Using your specialized skills and talents in serving people and communities. (Play your guitar, teach aerobics to adults or give lessons to kids ) 

3.) Volunteering in developing countries- This is a popular and a trending type of volunteering(for developed countries) which mainly focuses on fields such as teaching English, assisting local NGOs, working at orphanages etc. in developing countries.

4.) Virtual Volunteering- Technology has made volunteering a possibility for busy heads as well. Online volunteering/ e-volunteering can be used for many cyber services such as mentoring and tutoring.

5.) Environmental Volunteering- Activities such as ecological restoration, environmental monitoring, saving endangered animals, building dialogues and educating others on environmental issues can be categorized under this.

6.) Volunteering in an emergency- Volunteering plays a crucial role at the times of natural disasters and in their recovery efforts. (Oh yes, we all have experience )

7.) Cooperate Volunteering – Not much supported in Sri Lanka but in other countries, where employees are given an allowance of paid time off annually which they can use for volunteering of their choice. They have their own Employee Volunteering Programs and Employer Supported Volunteering programs. ( Now these are the real deeds we should learn and initiate)

8.) Community Volunteering- Basically to improve your local community through local clubs and societies and religious institutions. 

Likewise “Volunteering” is universal. When I asked “the best thing about volunteering” from many activists, their answers included self-satisfaction, making others’ lives better, making new friends, having new experiences etc. and the list was long. Studies and experts have pointed out many benefits of volunteering. They say it helps to live a long healthy life as it improves both physical and psychological well-being.  It also helps to establish strong relationships which will help you in your social life as well as in your career life and this is brought out as a key solution for the increasing population of lonely senior citizens. And also volunteering ameliorates the society and it gives you the sense of purpose which will make you think as a responsible human.

It may seem as there are no downsides for volunteering. Yes, it is fully rewarding as long as you keep these factors on mind. To start off, if you are a passionate and a keen volunteer you might take part in every possible project which is truly admirable. But once you are recognized as a valuable asset by the organizations you will be encouraged to do more which will lead you to scheduling issues with personal obligations. So it is very important to clearly emphasize your capacity of commitment. Setting boundaries is known as a necessary evil in volunteering world. And for some volunteers engaging in emotionally affecting work will make them stressful and anxious which will impact their day to day lives. So again it is important to know your capacity and volunteer without giving negative influence to yourself as it is important for you to be happy before making others happy. Another factor is the frustration volunteers face when others do not share their passion as much as they do and when society does not give enough value for their commitment. So it is better if you consider it as a selfless act and do not expect any high recognition back.

Regardless of all the pros and cons, “Volunteering” is not just about standing for serious global issues but it can also be the simplest random act of kindness, just like offering a seat for a senior citizen in public transportation and spending some quality time with orphan children, as mentioned by a truly amazing youth activist in a workshop I participated. It can be effective in personal, local or international development. It can be your education, experience or enthusiasm. It can be an unexpected situation, a habit or a life style. And that is why you should make “volunteering” a significant part of your day to day life.

Lose it. And find it back.


Hold on and think.Think sincerely.Think with no deceit.Think atleast once in your lifetime.Can you explain yourself? Why are you here? What have you been doing for the entire time? Your qualities,strengths and your weaknesses. Your past,present and your future.Who are you? Honestly.

You will come up with answers.Yes,you will.7 billion different answers for 7 billion souls.I’m generous,hot-tempered,genius and self-centered.I am awesome. I am perfect.I love myself for who I am.

But one day you will see everything tasteless:love,life and laugh.It is not your thing anymore.It is not what you used to be anymore.It is not what people loved you for anymore.Did I lose myself?

No,you didn’t. You just simply took everything for granted in this evanescent life.You just simply caged your favourite “I”  and convinced yourself that the cage is imperishable.You were just simply struggling to preserve others’ favourite “I”.And yes,you will start missing old you.You will stick on to your old golden time.But you change.For the better or worse.Sometimes for no reason.You change.

They say “out of everything that you will miss in your life,missing yourself is the worst”.But no,it is okay to lose yourself.And find it back.And lose it again.To accept yourself.To give unconditional love to both your best “I” and worst “I”. Cause you have to lose yourself to find yourself.

But first, forgive yourself

You, yes you, gone through hills and trenches,fought the hardest battles, dissapointments,broken hopes BUT still, still your living. Breathing. Making plans for today and tomorrow.Dreaming your future.Achieving your goals. 

You are doing your best and still feel like it is the hardest? Watching motivational clips,reading articles to build personality,trying to make everyone happy and smiling through pain. 

You have gone through all these drama but still, when you have this little downfall,why is it so hard to “forgive” yourself? You keep thinking what went wrong ,where and why. You keep praying you should not have said that, seen that and done that.

Love yourself.Please do.But first, forgive yourself.And it is certainly not excuses, toleration or pardon.It is the ultimate feeling of letting all the venom faded away.The tranquility you get from forgiveness will light up your soul.And your palm-sized heart.And you will eventually start loving every single entity. And beyond. 

What if he asks for your nudes

Dear Girls, 

When one day the guy in your dreams comes to your world and shows affection and asks for your hand , you, say yes and imagine the whole universe revolving around both of you. Things are just perfect. Facing ups and downs together.Planning the future ahead.

But if that prince charming asks for your nudes maybe begs for them what would you do? If you say No, he will suggest that you have trust issues, he will ask isn’t it better than looking at other girls’ nudes? You do not want to lose him at all. Do you? You question his desires. But trust , proving your trust is way more important. Isn’t it? 

This is with all my love to those beautiful souls, never share your nudes with anyone.The boy will take the upperhand in the relationship. Threatening you, making you regret, making you curse him.He won’t be your happy pill anymore. You will tolerate for the sake of your face.But you will suffer.

When things are unbearable for you and you breakup , next day, you will be the hot topic of the Internet.Though it is your natural body which million of other women own, though men who hunt for your nudes have seen many more naked female bodies , the mentally retards will still ask for the link, sharing it and making posts. 

So please, have faith in yourself.Believe in yourself.Respect yourself.Be intellectual enough to forsee the consequences.Amen.