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The First Step

This is the story of Kumari Herath, Counsellor, Women in Need

 

Kumari Herath is a counsellor attached to the Anuradhaura office of Women in Need who has witnessed so much suffering through the women she has met over the past few years.

“I met a woman once who had been married for 10 years, and within these years, she had faced it all. She had been raped by her husband, she had been thrown into a well, she had been forced to abort against her own will….twice! she wasn’t allowed to interact with any friends or family, and she even had to look after another woman her husband had impregnated during his many affairs. Despite all of this, this 35 years old, had suffered in silence for an entire decade.”

“Once the curfew lifted, she had had enough and so she called us. She visited me at the Anuradhaura branch where she stayed for a bit and was later moved to a secure location while the case against her husband was ongoing. I still remember the fear in her voice over her husband’s death threat, which had led to her assuming that her only escape was suicide. She is now recovering and more importantly, safe.”

For Kumari Herath, reports like this were a daily reality that often keeps her up at night. Having worked at the Women’s Shelter for the last 17 years, she still feels the same heartache for the women who come to her for help.

“Due to COVID-19, I have seen a rapid rise in the number of gender-based violence cases, having personally dealt with 800 this year. The most common complaint is of sexual abuse by intimate partners, as most women couldn’t escape from the four walls of their home due to curfew/lockdown measures. If a woman resisted the sexual abuse, she also had to endure physical violence, transforming the safe haven of her own home into their personal hell.“

The curfew had cut off their means to escape due to the travel restrictions, and their access to healthcare and support.

“Due to desperation, one woman even took her children and hid in the jungle for fear of her husband. But even, while being in hiding, she had been sexually exploited by a group of people passing by. Women lack safe spaces and security.”

 

Over the past 17 years, Kumari as an individual has sacrificed so much, compromising family time to allocate more and more time to women and girls who need help and care. She is supported by her husband and two teenage children who respect the service she provides to the world, lifting much of her stress by being there for her. However, for many women, family is not a source of solace or safety. “Every person is born free and equal. This human right is often forgotten when you are the subject of extreme abuse. I would like to remind the victims and survivors that service providers like us are ready to make a difference if they seek help by taking the first step to speak up against their abuse.”

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UNFPA works with the Government of Sri Lanka and other key stakeholders to ensure zero unmet need for contraception; zero preventable maternal deaths; and zero gender-based violence and harmful practices.

As we head into a period of 16 days of activism against GBV from 25 November to 10 December, this year we want to draw special focus on the many frontline health workers and service providers like Kumari who strive to create a safer world for all despite COVID-19. Together, let’s take action to shed a light on this shadow pandemic. Let’s also call for action by policymakers across the world to prioritize this issue even amidst the pandemic because the world cannot prosper if a home is not safe for women and girls. This is an important part of our commitment to leaving no one behind.

 

 

If you or anyone you know is in need of help, reach out to organisations that can support you. They will treat all information confidentially. 

  • Women in Need helpline - 0114718585 /  0777349100
  • Women's Help Line - Ministry of Women and Child Affairs - 1938