‘Serving women and children gives me hope for the future’
Addressing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence is an integral aspect of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. 46-year-old L.D. W Sanjeewani is a Chief Inspector of Police, serving in the Polonnaruwa Police Division in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka. She has over 25 years of experience helping survivors of violence.
“When people ask me why I chose this career path, I have a distinct memory to share. When I was in Grade 2 or 3, I visited a police station because of an incident that had taken place at home. My mother was speaking to a female police officer, and I was enraptured by her sense of authority and the badges she wore. I remember thinking, “I want to be like her”.
I began my journey in safety and security as a sub-inspector in 1997. It was not an easy journey because women face a lot of obstacles to get awarded prominent and authoritative posts. I also served in the Special Task Force during the conflict where I received rigorous training and have witnessed the devastating impact of conflict on women and children. My work has not been easy.
In a post-conflict setting, I help survivors of domestic violence. With COVID-19, couples were forced to stay under one roof for a prolonged period, which increased complaints of husbands beating their wives. When we receive complaints, the perpetrators are arrested in most cases. If the wife has sustained injuries, we hospitalize them or move them to a safe house. This is followed by a legal battle.
This process is especially traumatizing for the children, because it begs the question: who will look after them? Often, the mother is unable to provide care due to her battered physical and emotional state, and the father is imprisoned. I am often faced with the challenge of what happens next. How are we meant to keep the father in one jail cell, and the children in another? We must introduce institutional changes that addresses these discrepancies, so we are not causing more harm than there is already. Another issue that is overlooked and prevents appropriate care is avoiding the mental health effects of survivors, which left untreated could give way to other issues like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and addiction. It is important to provide psychosocial support and establish rehabilitation centers for both survivors and perpetrators.
While structural reform is important, this also reflects a deeper societal issue. Whether pandemics or curfews exist, if a person has the tendency to violate another human being, it will happen one way or another. Years of experience have taught me that the root cause of violence against women is the role that they are expected to fulfill, and how society treats them as lesser or invaluable based on these expectations. These attitudes need to be fundamentally reversed.
As police officers, the most obvious way we can ensure the safety and protection of survivors is by restricting contact between the perpetrator and the survivor. However, while attending UN Women’s multi-party dialogues*, I understood the equal importance of ensuring that women are economically empowered. Which is why business trainings and programmes are beneficial for women so that they can become independent. I understood the issue of safety and security under many lenses and contexts such as war, conflict and especially about how different countries are addressing these issues. This helped me realize how important it is to raise other women’s voices and stand by them and provide them with the resources they may need. I foresee myself continuing to work in this field for many years because if we don’t stand up for women’s rights, then who will?”
* The Multi-party Dialogues (MPDs) hosted by UN Women are designed to connect various stakeholders including women leaders, government officials, CSOs, religious leaders and the media through a common platform. L.D.W. Sanjeewani attended this series of dialogues held in October 2021 which brought together different stakeholders from around the country. The MPDs provided them the opportunity to identify District-level issues that affect the wellbeing of women and to collectively find solutions to work towards implementing policies related to ‘Women, Peace and Security’.
The MPDs are part of a project titled ‘Implementing the Women, Peace and Security Agenda in Sri Lanka’ funded by the Government of Japan.