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“In August this year, our sisters from the Women Action Network (WAN) made recommendations on reforming discriminatory laws to the Fundamental Rights Parliamentary Sub-Committee of the Constitutional Assembly of Sri Lanka. However, since then they have been vilified and attacked in several public meetings by some Muslim community leaders. These speeches have also been widely circulated through social media. We are saddened and shocked that such dedicated women leaders committed to advance the well-being of women and their communities have been attacked in this way,” Women’s Coalition for Disaster Management (Batticaloa women’s network) said in a statement.
We publish below the statement endorsed by 109 Civil Society activists and 16 organisations in full:
The constitutional reform process has initiated important discussions about legal reform. Among them is the need to better protect women’s rights and reform laws that discriminate against women. As women leaders who have worked for more than 25 years on women’s rights, we welcome this focus.
We call for changing laws that discriminate against us, including the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, the Thesavalamai, Land Development Ordinance, the Vagrants Ordinance and sections 365 and 365A of the penal code.
In August this year, our sisters from the Women Action Network (WAN) made recommendations on reforming discriminatory laws to the Fundamental Rights Parliamentary Sub-Committee of the Constitutional Assembly of Sri Lanka. However, since then they have been vilified and attacked in several public meetings by some Muslim community leaders. These speeches have also been widely circulated through social media.
We are saddened and shocked that such dedicated women leaders committed to advance the well-being of women and their communities have been attacked in this way.
We reiterate some of the demands made by our sisters –
Article 16 (1) of the current constitution should be repealed and the constitution should ensure that all citizens are should be treated equally.
“Article 12 of the current constitution guarantees equal rights to men and women and non-discrimination. However, article 16 (1) protects many laws that discriminate against women and the marginalised citizen”.
Reform personal laws that discriminate against women.
- Protect all Sri Lankans by enforcing a minimum age of marriage of 18 years for all citizens regardless of religion or ethnicity.
- Remove the practice of dowry/kaikuli, which has led to coercion and harassment of married women and their families as well as domestic violence.
- Appoint women Quazis to ensure women’s access to equal justice in Quazi courts. Ensuring women can become Quazis, adjudicators, marriage registrars, and members of the Board of Quazis is to recognise Muslim women as equal Sri Lankan citizens. Excluding women from these positions, which are publicly funded also amounts to state-sanctioned discrimination against Sri Lankan Muslim women.
- Women should have the equal right to consent on principle and in paper to the marriage without needing permission of a male guardian or wali.
We strongly support our sisters from WAN in their struggle and demand respect for the dignity and safety of all those working for women’s rights and well-being.
Women and girls face much violence because of discriminatory laws. To prevent such violence against women and girls, and to ensure accountability for such violence, these laws must be reformed.
We call on everyone to come together to ensure that such public attacks do not recur, and that the dignity of women leaders who are at the forefront of these struggles are upheld.
We also condemn anti-Muslim hate speech that is aimed at causing fear among Muslim communities and is questioning their status as equal citizens of Sri Lanka. In this context, we strongly oppose opportunistic political misuse of the struggle for Muslim women’s rights or personal law reform. Women of all ethnic communities in Sri Lanka suffer from inequality and violence and we oppose both racism and sexism. – Women’s Coalition for Disaster Management (Batticaloa women’s network)
We, the undersigned, endorse this statement and support the call to reform the laws discriminatory towards women.
Abha Bhaiya – India
Afkar Fazil – Student
Afrah Niwas – Univ. of Peradeniya
Ashila Niroshi – Standup Movement
Asma Azhar – Student, University of Peradeniya
Ayesha Kidwai – Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India
Azra Wazeer – Temporary Lecturer, University of Peradeniya
Bisliya Bhutto – Kilinochchi
Damairia Pakpahan – Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Dr. Minna Thaheer – Policy Advisor/Activist & Researcher
Dr. Camena Guneratne
Dr.V. Rukmini Rao – India
Farhana Raheem – Legal Assistant
Hana Nayeem – Student
Hisham Muhammed – Management Accountant
Huriyyah Fahim Hameed, Assistant Researcher
Iman Fahim Hameed – Research and Lab Management
Indrani Rajendran- Independent Consultant Colombo
Kamla Bhasin – India
Kamayani Bali Mahabal feminist and human rights activist, India
Kapoor, Women’s rights activist, Kolkata, India
Kumudini Samuel – Women and Media Collective
Koalisi Perempuan Indonesia
Mangaleswary Shanker – Attorney-at-Law
Malathi de Alwis
Marisa de Silva
Mariam Muhammed – Housewife
Mariam Wadood – Attorney-at-Law
Mumthaz Ansar – Temporarily Instructor ELTU
Muhammed Naufer – Accountant
M. A. Nuhman formerly Professor of Tamil, Univ. of Peradeniya
Prof. Carmen Wickramagamage – Univ.of Peredeniya
Prof. Maithree Wickramasinghe
Navaranjini Nadarajah Sureka
Rafia Gulani Women’s Rights Activist
Rahini . B
Rajany Rajeswary – Feminist, Jaffna
Ranitha Gnanarajah – Attorney-at-Law
Ramzi Shahabdeen – Accountant and Business Analyst
Rita Manchanda South Asia Forum for Human Rights
Sara Wazeer – Student, Sherwood Girls’ College, Ambatenna
Saba Ismail – Aware Girls
Saadia Haq – Human rights journalist and feminist, Pakistan
Saswati Ghosh- HOD and ASSOCIATE PROF, Economics. City College. Kolkata
Shahul Hameed Hasbullah – Formerly Prof. in Geography,University of Peradeniya
Shamra Wazeer – Student, Loyal Ladies’ College, Polgolla
Shamil Mansoor – Chartered Management Accountant
Shanaz Mansoor – Accountant
Shafani Riyas – Preschool Teacher
Sivamohan Sumathy University of Peradeniya
Sr. Nichola Emmanuel
Sumika Perera -Coordinator, Women’s Resource Centre
Suhanthini Thiventhiram- Kilinochchi
Udeni Thewarapperuma –Attorney At Law
Vasuki Jeyashankar – Women’s Rights Activist
Vijitha Ehamparanathan – Trincomalee
Zaheer Mohamed- Hotel Manager, Grange Hotel, London
Zulhama Fazil – Student
Affected Women Forum – Akkaraipattu
Beyond Beijing Committee Nepal
Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA)
Centre for Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Trincomalee
Gramya Resource Centre for Women – India
Joint Women’s Programme – India
Mannar Women’s Development Federation
Northern Women Action Advocacy Network(NWAAN) – Vavuniya
Programme on Women’s Economic Social and Cultural Rights (PWESCR) – India
Peshraft Foundation for Human Rights, Pakistan.
SAFA for ESCR , South Asian Feminist Alliance
Suriya Women’s Development Centre, Batticaloa
The Grassrooted Trust
Women In Need
Women’s Coalition for Disaster Management(WCDM)
Youth Advocacy Network Sri Lanka