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This is the story of Shanthamary, Counsellor, Jaffna Social Action Centre.



“I was in a dark place when my mother passed away and I wasn’t sure how to bring myself out of it. A year later the Indian Ocean Tsunami hit and immediately started volunteering and helping some of the survivors. Most often I was just lending an ear but I found my calling. I was able to fight my own demons and overcome my grief, and also came to a realization of what I really wanted to do with my life.”

Born in 1964, Shanthamary today works as a counsellor at a women’s shelter in Mullaithivu, run by the Jaffna Social Action Centre. Here, for the past three years, she has been working tirelessly to support victims and survivors of gender-based violence.

Living in Jaffna, a city that has risen above its ashes following a gruesome near-30-year civil war, Shanthamary is no stranger to tough times. From her mother’s loss to growing up in the midst of the conflict, the tsunami, and now the COVID-19 pandemic. But with strong support from family and friends, she has overcome so much through it all, although many are not as blessed as her. Shanthamary recalls how throughout her life, she has met with so many women and girls in particular, who have faced some very difficult situations, mostly from someone close to them or an intimate partner. These women often suffer in silence and very rarely reach out for help. Recognizing this, Shanthamary spends more and more time at the shelter, counselling those who appeal for support.

COVID-19 however has made things even tougher. An early diagnosis of osteoporosis has compromised her immune-system making it harder for her to be out there doing what she loves – spending time with people. Through it all, she continues with a brave smile on her face.

“I feel immense stress and worry as the COVID-19 situation accelerates in the northern region. I have to use public transport to get to and from work which worries me even more, especially because of my health situation. But I am so grateful that UNFPA stepped in to provide the necessary safety and preventative health kits to protect ourselves against this vicious pandemic to remain safe while we continue to provide psychosocial support to women and girls.”

With travel restrictions in place, Shanthamary now stays within the shelter so she can continue to deliver her services and keep us with the growing demand of those seeking help – a clear sign that domestic violence is increasing in COVID-19 lockdown settings.

“I recently met this woman……She was shaking like a leaf, with eyes full of fear and apprehension, clutching onto her three daughters for dear life. She had been badly bruised. After speaking to her I learned she was running from her abusive husband and that she and her children had just left with only the clothes on their back and the kid’s school bags. Had she stayed home any longer she wouldn’t have made it?. But she finally left after years of violence even in front of her children. It has taken months of group counseling and individual therapy to lift her out of the hatred towards men, God, and life in general but I am glad to be part of her healing process.”

Shanthamary has dedicated her whole life to working with survivors of violence, after all, as she says, “with this occupation comes with great responsibility to serve.”


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

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 Shanthamary 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