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Female journalists fight sexual harassment in Sri Lanka

Media organizations call on the government to take immediate action to protect women

UCA News reporter, Colombo

UCA News reporter, Colombo

Published: July 05, 2021 06:08 AM GMT

Updated: July 05, 2021 06:24 AM GMT

Female journalists fight sexual harassment in Sri Lanka
A man reads a newspaper covering the results of Sri Lanka's parliamentary elections in Colombo in August 2020. Female journalists say they are facing sexual harassment in the country's newsrooms. (Photo: AFP)

Sri Lankan media organizations have urged the government to expedite investigations into the sexual abuse of female journalists.

Journalist Sarah Kellapatha alerted others through Twitter about her experience of sexual harassment.

After sharing Kellapatha's experience on social media, several female journalists have raised their voice against sexual violence in the workplace.

Kellapatha said it was almost impossible for any female to wear a dress to work without having to endure salacious remarks from male colleagues about their legs and bodies in general, or they would utter a loud "sexy" whenever they felt like it.

"It was always very uncomfortable," said Kellapatha in her Twitter message.

Another female journalist said male colleagues look at the chests or legs of women and say “sexy.”

Educate media heads to ensure women's safety as soon as they become a victim

"Some send SMS messages at night when women journalists go home. They ask what kind of dress she wears at night," said a journalist in her social media post.

Many female journalists joined the #MeTooSrilanka campaign through social media against sexual harassment in newsrooms across the country.

The Sri Lanka Young Journalists Association (SLYJA) called for the appointment of a female official to minimize sexual harassment in the workplace and to discuss such issues.

"Educate media heads to ensure women's safety as soon as they become a victim, take institutional action against the perpetrators and encourage victims to take legal action," the SLYJA said in a statement.

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"Establishment of a separate independent division of the Information Department of the Media Ministry is important to conduct regular awareness campaigns to stop sexual harassment.”

Dharmasiri Lankapeli from the Federation of Media Employees' Trade Union (FMETU) called on the government to take immediate action to end the sexual harassment of women in English, Sinhala and Tamil media houses.

“The government of Sri Lanka, which has signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, must take immediate action against the perpetrators of sexual abuse," said Lankapeli.

Seetha Ranjanee, convener of the Free Media Movement, said an impartial investigation should be carried out expeditiously, especially regarding incidents in state media institutions.

"All stakeholders must take an active role in formulating gender policy. Introduction of gender sensitive guidelines in all media outlets should not be delayed any further,” said Ranjanee.

The media ministry should take immediate action to protect women journalists without waiting for police complaints

Frank De Zoysa, general secretary of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, condemned such crimes taking place in the media industry.

"We urge the relevant authorities to carry out proper investigations into the sexual harassment allegations and take necessary legal action against the culprits," said De Zoysa.

A Catholic nun said sexual harassment is not only directed at journalists but women are afraid to go to the police.

"Civil society organizations have lodged a complaint urging the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to intervene to put an end to all forms of sexual abuse against women and children at police stations," said the nun who wished to remain anonymous.

"The media ministry should take immediate action to protect women journalists without waiting for police complaints. Due to such circumstances, women journalists will not appear in the field of journalism in future." 

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