UNFPA's National Programme and Policy Analyst (on Women's Rights & Gender), Sharika Coorya reports from the field in Mullaitivu:
Together with the Ministry of Women’s and Child affairs (MoWCA), a multi stakeholder meeting was held in the Mullaitivu District on the 21st and 22nd of October 2016. The meeting was held with the objective of understanding the current Gender-based violence (GBV) issues and to improve the prevalent response mechanism at the divisional level.
The two day program saw the participation of the Women Development Officers, Representatives from the Health sector, Police Women and Child Bureau Units, Legal Aid Commission and Civil Society.
The first day focused on the Divisional MoWCA units (comprising Women Development officers, Child Rights Protection Officers, National Child Protection Agency Officers, and Relief Sisters) with the participation of 35 field officers and the second day had over 77 participants from various sectors and from the 6 Divisions in the Mullaitivu District .
The following were identified as factors that increased vulnerability of women and children to issues of domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, high school drop outs and human trafficking:
· Lack of functioning safe houses for women and children
· Widespread use of alcohol
· Lack of psycho-social counselors
· Language barriers within the administration and police units
· Illegal migration of women to the Middle East for work
Many participant voiced the need for strengthened child care facilities, shelters for women, adequate cadre for the MoWCA units , functioning Mithruru Piyasa, Tamil police officers and adolescent mental health services. The lack of sustainable economic opportunities from corporates, as opposed to micro financing, was among the key issues that was raised.
The Legal Aid Commission in their presentation stated that 75% of GBV cases are not detected as reporting is not done due to cultural issues. It was proposed that there needs to be a mechanism to ensure confidentiality and privacy to the victims, as this is seen as one of the key reasons for lack of reporting.
Participants added the need for a coordinated mechanism to respond to GBV and also to be mindful of sensitivities around collecting data on GBV incidents. Many participants expressed the issue of reduced funding from the not for profit sector for service provision, which is why they needed improved responses from the State.
The District secretary in her remarks noted the need for a focused response given that Mullaitivu is an area recovering from the civil war and stated her commitment towards minimizing violence against women and girls through the provision of counselling and other support services.
Responding to the queries and suggestions, the Additional Secretary of MoWC and OIC of Mullaitivu said that they would provide mobile services to increase civilian access to basic registration documents, increased efforts to fill the MoWC units and requested the participants to encourage communities to join the Police force in order to bridge the gap of Tamil officers.