Sri Lanka: Women NGO workers in East under threat

“Joined Hands” North-East Women’s Network
Details of the 'Campaign for the Protection of Women's Human Rights' relating to the issue of women in the East of Sri Lanka not being able to work in NGOs.
During the first week of April pamphlets were distributed in the districts of Batticaloa and Ampara alleging that female staff of NGOs were being sexually abused; that they featured in blue films, were abused by their male colleagues inside vehicles while traveling, and during staff excursions and training programs.
It was also alleged that as a result of this large numbers of women had performed abortions. The note ended with a threat that all women staff members should resign their jobs by a certain date failing which they will be killed. Unfortunately, one of the members of Parliament in Batticaloa had also made a public pronouncement of the said baseless allegations adding fuel to fire. Although clarifications were sought from him and various leaders, and a somewhat patronizing “permission” was given for women to work in NGOs (that they should wear Saree to work, should not stay and work overtime and should avoid all programs outside the district), more leaflets continue to appear in similar vein.

This is not an isolated incident. We recall that five years ago leaflets had been distributed commanding all adult women to wear a Saree in order to protect Tamil culture. And, in many of our project areas women animators who worked overtime in their field offices have been occasionally intimidated against doing so. The recent development has been the worst form of interference so far. It has literally rolled back all the effective work done by NGOs on the issue of gender equality.

During 2nd-5th May 2006, we visited several NGOs in Batticaloa and Ampara, from Valaichenai upto Akkaraipattu. With a few exceptions, we saw uncertainty and fear amongst most women who were working in NGOs. Some have been already discontinued by their managements, and some others have voluntarily dropped out. Others who continue are severely hampered by inhibitions regarding working late and going to outer destinations to participate in training programmes. In an environment of indiscriminate assassinations and war, the lack of transparency of the protagonists of this sinister literature has silenced the women of the East fearing for their lives.

We, of the North East Women’s Network called “Joined Hands”, are resolved to bring an end to the succumbing of our community to such barbaric threats, and to protect and promote democracy, freedom and women’s human rights. We agree that in any society (sexual) morality should be exemplary and that traditions and culture are to be preserved; but by men and women both. Men and women are both equally responsible and answerable for any deterioration of our society’s mores. Hence, we oppose any attempt to heap the responsibility of safeguarding culture and morality solely on women. We protest against imposing of social control over women under this guise of putting the whole blame of safeguarding culture and morality on them.


In this context we have started an awareness raising campaign in the East as of first week of May. 2000 handbills have been distributed to NGOs widely in the three districts which explain in four pages the rationale of the campaign. This is being followed by the action of tying a yellow cloth/ribbon on the gate/fence of each dwelling to express one’s protest against the injustice of imposing social control over women under the guise of blaming them as the sole offenders in issues concerning morality and culture.

The process of tying the yellow cloth/ribbon will begin between 10th and 15th May, and we request that these cloths remain tied until 15th June.

This action is to be followed by a campaign through the print and electronic media, and the organizing of public debating forums.

We fervently ask your support for this campaign. We would like you to personally intervene and ensure that yellow cloth is tied to the gates of the following places before 15th May:
  1. The branch offices of your organization in the East
  2. The houses of all your staff members in the East
  3. The offices of your partner organizations
  4. The houses of the staff members of your partner organizations
  5. The houses of at least 10 neighbours of all the above staff members
From the 15th of May we intend to establish an information desk in our Batticaloa office in order to record the progress of the campaign. It will be open from Mon – Fri from 9.00 am to 11.00 am. We kindly request you to assign a staff member of your organization to call this desk regularly and give an update of your activities in terms of how many houses and offices under your purview have tied the yellow cloth, and any other activity that you have initiated on your own under this campaign. Especially, we would love digital photographs of rows and rows of houses/dwellings with yellow cloth tied to their gates. We shall share this information and the photographs electronically with all the NGOs on a weekly basis.

The coordinates of the information office are,

“Joined hands” Women’s Network
Saravana Road
Tel: 065- 2222500
Contact persons: Mr Mano Rajasingam , Ms Suganthi & Ms Meena (both conversant only in Tamil).

If you would like to actively participate in this campaign, thankyou, we like to let you know that we need loads of help. The options are:
  1. Second staff to help set up and run our information desk in Batticaloa;
  2. Organize meetings with your own stakeholders and other constituencies to persuade them to participate in this campaign;
  3. Utilize your branch office personnel and any of your gender resource persons to bring out more pamphlets and hand bills that clarify again and again what the real issues are, in very simple Tamil language. Lets flood the area with positive, vibrant and ideologically progressive pamphlets;
  4. Encourage your staff to contribute letters and articles on this issue to the national Tamil dailies;
  5. Share with us new ideas used in other countries for similar campaigns;
  6. Provide training in strategy planning, monitoring and implementation, for any of your partner organizations which are interested in coordinating a campaign of their own;
  7. And of course, provide whatever possible financial contributions to our kitty to take the campaign forward in the coming months.
We thankyou for your cooperation in advance.

Shanthi Sachithanandam Chairperson of Viluthu, Centre for Human Resources Development
Campaign Facilitator on behalf of “Joined Hands” North-East Women’s Network

May 5, 2006

“We oppose the attempt at heaping the responsibility of safeguarding culture and morality solely on women.”


“We protest against imposing of social control over women under this guise of putting the whole blame of safeguarding culture on them”

Say “Yes” to Democracy, Freedom and Women’s Human Rights