Sri Lanka: The 'twin maladies' of gender and ethnicity in covering conflict
As the first defence reporter in the Tamil media, Krishni IfhamKanthasamy says that she pursued her career amidst a myriad of obstacles and challenges related to social, cultural and gender based harassment. “Ethnic bias and security risks were the other bug bears that stood on the way to progress,” said a harassed Kanthasamy.
But it is not her own difficulties and challenges that she wishes to draw attention to. Her concern is for the Tamil speaking women in media who are struggling to report hardship, harassment and difficulties while enduring the same trauma in their own lives.
“I am very sensitive towards issues faced by women and children who are affected in the war zone in Sri Lanka and have written many articles about them,” said Kanthasamy. “In fact all members of our association - the Tamil speaking women in media are concerned about each other and about what is happening around us. We formed our organisation on April 6, 2005 with a view to solving our problems,” said Kanthasamy.
She went on to say that the women journalists seldom or never got the opportunity to undergo training. “We have no opportunity for training and no workshops are being conducted for us. When those women who wish to become journalists try to pursue their chosen career, they are hired and put on as trainee sub editors. Where is the training, where is the professionalism that ought to be instilled in Tamil speaking women journalists and why this difference only for Tamil speaking women journalists,” queries a concerned Kanthasamy.
We have undergone many a hardship. When the organisation was formed we had no place to meet either. We were given the opportunity to meet every month by Manique Mendis who was the CEO of the Press Complaints Commission at that time. Not only were we given the space, but also care and refreshments. Our members travelled from as far as Badulla, Kandy and the north and east,” said a grateful Kanthasamy.
“I wish to draw attention to the sad fact that some of our members are harassed within their own organisations. There are several members who have reported that they have been sexually harassed and this harassment is not only from the outside but in some cases from within their own organisations. But these women have borne all this anguish and have strode on, doing their jobs to the best of their ability,” said Kanthasamy.
Kanthasamy drew attention to the fact that women journalists too have bills to pay and lives to lead and thus are forced to endure the difficulties in their path.
Krishny Ifham Kanthasamy also went on to point out that Tamil speaking women of the media undergo much harassment at checkpoints. “I know of members who were arrested and released thereafter. One member was arrested on Press Freedom Day because she had her SLBC office card but not the Press Identity Card,” recalled Kanthasamy.
“Too frightened to do our job
“We have reached a point where we are too frightened to do our job. The media died after the death of Lasantha Wickrematunge. It will take a long time for a fearless journalist of the calibre of Lasantha Wickrematunge to emerge. But still there are doubts, there can only be one Lasantha. Today there is no one to write about freedom, no one to write about the threats and no one to write about the real situation because everyone is scared to write anything controversial,” pointed out Kanthasamy.
“I know that there are several journalists who are going overseas. But there are also people like me who do not want to leave this country, but want to stay and write the facts,” she said.
Manique Mendis, CEO of the Business for Peace Alliance who is also the patron of the Tamil Speaking Women Journalists Association when contacted by The Sunday Leader said that Tamil speaking women journalists in Sri Lanka is a marginalised group. They are working amidst a myriad of challenges relating to culture, social barriers and security. By getting together and forming an association they are able to discuss common issues and problems and meet challenges more effectively. They are making a difference in journalism and the development of Sri Lanka, said Mendis.
22 March 2009
Posted by Sunanda Deshapriya
Source: Freedom of Expression Sri Lanka
SRI LANKA: Thousands flee conflict-hit north
COLOMBO, 24 March 2009 (IRIN) - Thousands of civilians escaped fighting in the north over the weekend, according to official sources, as the UN warned of deteriorating conditions for those still trapped in the combat zone.
More than 3,000 people crossed into government-controlled areas in the Puthukkudiyiruppu area, the Defence Ministry reported.
On 21 March alone, more than 1,100 civilians fled, many of them children, according to the ministry, despite heavy artillery and mortar fire in the area. On 22 March, another 890 escaped fighting overland in the same area.
Some 108 people, who had fled the fighting in six dinghies flying white flags, were rescued by the Sri Lankan Navy near the village of Chundikulam, north of the combat zone, on 21 March.
Since 15 March, more than 7,000 Tamil civilians have crossed into government areas, according to official statistics, bringing to nearly 50,000 the number being housed at transit camps and welfare centres in the northern districts of Mannar, Jaffna and Vavuniya since December.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had evacuated by sea, with the help of the Navy, more than 5,000 sick and wounded civilians and caregivers from Putumattalan, a village at the edge of a no-fire zone, to Trincomalee town in government areas, since 10 February.
The latest group of more than 490 patients and caregivers was evacuated on 22 March, the Navy said.
The ICRC said the ship had also carried medical supplies into the combat zone.
The fleeing civilians were among tens of thousands trapped by heavy fighting between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the narrow Vanni Pocket, Mullaithivu District.
The UN estimates that 150,000 to 200,000 people remain trapped in the combat zone in the Vanni Pocket, while the government puts the figure at closer to 70,000.
Gordon Weiss, the UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, told IRIN the civilians fleeing heavy fighting had poured into the 14km no-fire zone along the coast at the eastern edge of the combat zone.
"Most civilians have been there for about six weeks now, living shoulder-to-shoulder," he said. "Conditions are dangerously squalid, with very limited food, medical help, or clean water, and shells falling among packed shelters. The LTTE are also recruiting civilians by force, including young children," he added.
The ICRC earlier said a lack of safe drinking water and proper sanitation was increasing the risk of epidemics in the no-fire zone.
"Tens of thousands of people confined to a rapidly shrinking area have headed for the coast to escape the fighting, in search of safety, food and medical care. But numbers in the coastal belt held by the LTTE have increased drastically over recent weeks, and clean water is scarce," it said in its latest operational update released on 17 March.
UN local staff recruited
Meanwhile, the UN has yet to receive a response to the request for the LTTE to release two UN local staff members and three dependents, including a 16-year-old girl, forcibly recruited.
"We have not heard any response from the LTTE about the staff members or their family members; they remain forcibly recruited," Weiss said.
The two staff members and the dependents were recruited this month and the UN officially protested to the LTTE on 16 March and requested they be released immediately.