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Stressing the importance of a multi-sectoral approach to address sexual and gender-based violence

Perpetrators make use of the delays in the justice system to take the law into their hands”, said a police officer.

We only have a clinical responsibility, but sexual and gender-based violence must be addressed holistically”, said a consultant physician.

Most often, perpetrators are family members and the pressure to not report such cases of violence are high”, said a state counsel. 

The views expressed by public officials of different sectors clearly highlights the need for a coordinated approach in addressing instances of sexual and gender-based violence, which is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. Gender-based violence undermines the health, dignity, security, and autonomy of its victims, yet remains shrouded in a culture of silence.

Sri Lanka must ensure a country where every woman and girl can confidently report and seek help, without feeling any hesitance due to societal norms or any fear of further violence. To achieve a strengthened response system to survivors of violence, it is essential that a range of interlinked services including health services, social protection and women-centered police and legal systems, are accessible and available. These services must be well coordinated and delivered by trained professionals to ensure that survivors receive a comprehensive response to their needs. A coordinated effort will ensure that no survivor is re-victimized, nor create an environment where perpetrators could thrive with impunity.

In 2018, the Government of Canada issued a grant to UNFPA to support the Government of Sri Lanka in strengthening public institutions to address sexual and gender-based violence. The 3-year project titled ‘We are With Her’ focuses on ensuring coordinated response systems. As part of the project work carried out in the Hambantota district, the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs and Dry Zone Development, and the District Secretariat of Hambantota, convened a high-level meeting with key stakeholders in July 2019 for consultation on formalizing a multi-disciplinary coordination mechanism.

Secretary to the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs, and UNFPA Representative in Sri Lanka, Ms. Ritsu Nacken, joined this high-level consultation, which was also attended by officials from the District Secretariat, Representatives from Legal Aid Commission, Medical Officers & Public Health Officials, Zonal Directors and Assistant Directors of Education of the District, Sri Lanka Police, Civil Society Representatives.

At the meeting, Hambantota District Secretary, Mr. M. K. Bandula Harischandra, said, “The principles of equality and diversity need to be instilled at childhood, in order to ensure that the Sri Lankan society has zero incidents of sexual and gender-based violence.” He further highlighted that the Domestic Violence Act was introduced as a result of the government’s focus towards these issues; however there is a need to improve public awareness and implementation of the Act.


Ms. Ritsu Nacken, said, “UNFPA has had a close relationship with the government on achieving national development goals for close to 50 years, especially with regards to enhancing Sri Lanka’s health system and the capacity building of the Women and Children’s units for response to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. The objective of the consultation was to understand the challenges and importance of formalizing a coordination mechanism for multi-sectoral response for sexual and gender-based violence.


Ms. Nacken also had the opportunity to visit ‘Mithuru Piyasa’ (SGBV Help Desk) at the Hambantota District hospital to discuss the constraints and challenges in addressing the issue with Dr. Wasantha Wijeweera, Medical Officer in Charge. She also visited the Women’s Development Federation (WDF), one of the largest women organization in Sri Lanka, engaged in poverty alleviation through empowerment of women, initiated in 1989.