News

More than a call

30 November 2020

This is the story of Anoja Maakawita, Counsellor-Coordinator, Women in Need 

 

 

“Marriage is like a cricket match – a partnership. When a player is bowled out, he walks off the field gracefully without having his partner yelling at him or showing any form of aggression. It is the same within a marriage. If, like the player who was bowled out, one partner is unable to or is struggling to fulfill a responsibility, the other must step in to help.”

To Anoja Makawita, lack of communication between spouses is the primary cause for domestic violence, as frustrations build and finally explode in the form of aggression. As a mother of two young children, Anoja knows only too well the importance of trust and open communication between spouses.

 

“We live in a fast paced world where women play multiple roles -  mother, sister, daughter, neighbor, employee…. and although COVID-19 changed the environment, and lockdown slowed down the pace of life, the expectations and responsibilities on a woman didn’t slow down or reduce….. The care burden actually increased and with it so did domestic violence.” As Counsellor-Coordinator attached to Women in Need (WIN), Anoja recalls receiving over 100 calls a day during the period of lockdown, so she had her work cut out for her, whilst balancing her own family. “Being a counsellor is demanding and often stressful so you need to be able to depend on your family for support.” 

A trained professional counsellor of 10 years, Anoja began her association with WIN in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami - helping women and families in the camps. Her years of experience and innate passion towards helping others pushed her to go beyond counselling to support victims and survivors of violence. She took it upon herself to document in detail each case handled by WIN so she and the other counsellors can keep following up.

“Immediately after the first COVID-19 lockdown, we received a call about a man who didn’t allow his wife to even step out of the house. He wouldn’t allow any family member to come over or help her even when they were out of gas.”  To Anoja, tackling this issue was something new and challenging and took her back to her childhood where she often found herself listening to her friend’s problems and looking for ways to solve them. So she brainstormed and discussed with the other counselors and she decided to approach the husband. “They were a middle-aged couple, so I first spoke to him and befriended him under the guise of checking up on people during lockdown. I spoke to him for about 2-3 days and asked him how he was coping if he had any health concerns.” After that, Anoja inquired about their needs and casually inquired about his wife. “Your wife must be around too right... can we speak to her as well? This went on for almost 1 and a half months. But I got through…” Although I had to spend so much time, it was worth it because it was the only way to make a breakthrough.

This is how it is with most calls. It doesn’t end with just one or two. Counsellors usually follow up for weeks before they have any form of success. The role of a counsellor at WIN is more than a phone call and counselling. We push ourselves to go beyond and this means balancing our own family time. “Recently I received a call from someone I had counselled years ago…it was her mother who needed help this time around. She was suicidal because she couldn’t proceed with her daughter’s wedding as planned. The burden of care during lockdown had also affected her to the point of no return.” Anoja received this call during the afternoon whilst in the midst of doing something for her own family. Yet she made it a point to follow up leaving her family behind. She quickly made some calls and within hours she was able to send a specialist to see this family. “Today I hear the family is doing well with the right care and support. Although it doesn’t seem like much, taking the time to make those calls really made a difference and I look back and I am thankful that my family is so understanding.”

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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 Anoja 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