A few years ago, I was reading a news article from Bangladesh about a young girl and her mother who had been at a refugee camp at Vavuniya, Sri Lanka. While there, they had both been attacked and raped, resulting in both the mother and the daughter becoming pregnant. It made me so angry because I was sure that Sri Lankan forces committed the rapes. However, I was not sure about the details of the whole story. After sometime, I went to Sri Lanka during my summer vacation and got a chance to visit the camp where the two rapes had taken place. I was so eager to meet the two women. I somehow found them with the help of an NGO that I was working with in Vavuniya that helped women who had been affected by the war.
When I eventually met with them I felt tears in my eyes. There, in front of me, was a small 12 year old girl with 2 children standing next to her. I was speechless and it took some time to regain my composure. She started to tell me the story of what had happened to her, though I didn’t ask her to tell to me the whole story. The reason why she wanted to tell her story was that she wanted the world to know her situation, and that of many women during the war. She also wanted to be a role model for rest of the girls; to stand up; to tell her story; and, to stop the violence against women during war-time. She then told me that she does not want to follow her mother’s path and she wanted to speak up. It was only then that I realized that her mother was not there and I asked about it. She said her mother had taken her life right after the baby had been born and now she had to take care of the two children. I start to think about how the military forces have been taking advantage of the young women during the war-time; how they took every opportunity to sexually harass women – from looking, to staring, to touching, to raping and beating and insulting. I can’t call these attitudes anything but animalistic
The girl continued her story by saying that she moved from her birth-place to Vavuniya during the last period of the Sri Lankan civil war. She had stayed in the refugee camp with the hope that she would gain a good education in a new place after the war, and would also be able to take care of her mother, having lost her father during the civil war.
“All the hopes I had vanished away within 10 minutes because of them” she said. She began to cry and cry. And as she cried I felt overwhelmed by sadness and empathy for what this girl had gone through. At that point, I felt responsible, not for what had happened to her, but for stopping it from happening to anyone else. I strongly believe that we will make the world a peaceful place; a place without violence against women. I believe by empowering grassroots women to speak up about each and every incident, like the small girl who I met, this can be achieved. At this point, it is pointless to believe in the government to make policies or take action against the violence because the government has had a part in creating violence against women and promoting the violence more and more. That’s why the work of NGO’s and grassroots organisations is so important. It is a way to enable women to speak about their experiences in a safe environment.
I began spreading the word of what had, and in many places still was happening to women in Sri Lanka. I also began teaching fundamental human rights to children in schools and to inform young people about their rights and how to use their rights. I now work as a project officer for Save The Children in Sri Lanka.
I have a dream which nurtures me and gives me a sense of myself: a dream to see a peaceful Sri Lanka where Tamil and Sinhalese can live peacefully. A country where a child is not woken from sleep, hearing the loud destructive voice of gun fire, and where they do not shiver at the nightmare of being burnt while they are asleep, but wake up hearing the chirping of birds, or dreams of flying above everything like a bird. In my opinion, only when the state recognizes Tamil as a part/citizen of Sri Lanka can we have a peaceful country. I chase my dream every single day, even when people said I am not strong enough to fight the long battle of injustice because I was a girl born in a minority ethnic group in Sri Lanka. I am still chasing my dream.
Story: Aberamy Sivalogananthan is 25 years old, and has been involved in peacebuilding in Sri Lanka for the past 5 years. Her work is focused on helping bring safety and equality to women and children who have been affected by the civil war. This work has included educating young people about fundamental human rights, as well as helping victims of the war seek justice. She currently works as a Project Officer for the New Beginnings Program funded by USAID and delivered and organised by Save the Children International. Through this role, she hopes to evoke change in government policy to address violence and discrimination in Sri Lanka.
Artist: Aya Chebbi