Venue: Staff Development Centre, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka
Martha Farrell Foundation recently collaborated with University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka to conduct a training of peer educators, for the prevention of sexual and gender based violence in the university. The two day training programme was attended by nearly 100 participants from staff and faculty, which included academic staff from various departments (like English, Agricultural Studies, Dental Sciences, Medical Sciences, Arts, Management Studies, Legal Studies etc) and non-academic staff (which included participants from the department of Student Services, wardens of residential halls and the university health centre).
The University of Peradeniya has recently instituted a policy for the prevention of sexual and gender based violence at the workplace and has been working towards the meaningful implementation of the policy. The training programme was conducted as a part of this, to strengthen the implementation, to generate awareness and sensitivity towards the issue. It used a participatory methodology and focussed on the following:
●Identifying different forms and types of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) at the workplace
●Identifying practices and attitudes that can help prevent SGBV in the university
●Preparation of action plan for taking forward initiatives to create a safe and conductive workplace in the university.
During these two days, the participants, through collective thinking and analysis, identified the following issues related to SGBV in their university:
●Negligible participation of women in the higher decision-making processes of the university. The higher decision making bodies like vice-chancellor, governing council, registrar, bursary and deans are dominated by men and therefore, these bodies often tend to be ignorant towards the needs of women and issues related to SGBV
●Widespread ragging in the university, which is often sexualized in nature. Men, women and people with different sexual orientations are regularly subjected to this and the perpetrators are often senior male students
●Intimate partner violence within students, which can also lead to unwanted pregnancies. Since abortion is illegal in Sri Lanka, many female students with unwanted pregnancies undergo illegal and unsafe abortions and often quit their education due to fear of stigma, bullying and further sexual violence
●Control of women’s mobility, behaviour and dress through informal means. Due to widespread ragging and slut shaming in the university, women are deprived of equal access to university resources. They are unable to participate in various off-campus activities and exposure trips due to insecurity and are forced to adhere to informal dress codes, which are often imposed by their peers or seniors
●Gendered division of labour at the workplace, where women are always expected to perform the role of the care-giver and are constrained from entering certain jobs, which are perceived to be more technical or unfit for women.
After identifying the aforementioned issues of SGBV in their workplace, the participants also ideated upon how they can work together to make the university more safe and inclusive. They suggested the following action points:
●Summation of SGBV policy, its translation in Sinhalese and Tamil, so that it can be distributed and read widely
●Inclusion of policy in university prospectus, students handbook and annual report
●Create emergency support, which should include a helpline number, psycho-social support to help the victim overcome trauma and convergence with health centre and student services
●Regularize training, meeting and dialogue on SGBV to enable a university wide network to report cases quickly and affect attitudes and behaviours
●Creating gender champions in each department and faculty, including student champions
●Strengthen redressal mechanism by setting up a fast track and time bound punishment system. This will also create deterrence
●Installation of CCTV cameras, proper lighting and other security measures in the campus
●Bring more women in the university decision making.
This training was organized with the support of Dr. Carmen Suneetha Wickramagamage, the awardee of Martha Farrell Memorial Fellowship 2017. She currently heads the Committee for SGBV in her university and is also heading the department of English. We thank her and her team for their support and congratulate them for their continuous efforts towards enabling a safe and conducive workplace in their university.