In the words of Jeevanee Kariyawasam: “Technology is our future - it’s important to empower women in this sector”


Interviewed by Avindi Perera

Photo: UN Women Sri Lanka

Photo: UN Women Sri Lanka

Jeevanee Kariyawasam has over 15 years of experience in the development sector. She is an activist who works on issues related to social transformation, peacebuilding, gender equality and women’s leadership. She is a former local councillor on the Chilaw Urban Council in the Puttalam District in Sri Lanka (2011 – 2015). As part of the series titled Sri Lankan Women, Digital Spaces and Revolutions, Jeevanee shared her thoughts with UN Women on politics and how she is working to combat online gender-based violence.

I was exposed to racism and violence from a young age due to my family’s diverse ethnic background and their involvement in political activism: My grandmother was Sinhalese and my grandfather was Tamil, and my mother and aunt were involved in political activism at the village level. These experiences, including our house being set on fire after my mother lost a bid for local office in the 70s, losing my grandfather to the ethnic riots in the 80s, and having our house destroyed and family injured in the 90s, have influenced my career in politics, law, and social transformation.

When I was a local councillor, I used digital spaces to drive social change. It was a time when social media was being used to incite racial violence in the country by spreading misinformation. I faced targeted hate speech and received online death threats because I was vocal about racism at a time when few actively opposed it.  

Over time, the physical violence that my family and I endured shifted to online violence. With the advent of digital platforms, it has become easier for people to harass others anonymously from behind a screen, especially to target women politicians. This prevalent violence often deters women from participating fully and meaningfully in the political arena.

Despite the negative aspects of social media that I witnessed, I always believed that, if used correctly, social media has the potential to serve the greater good. It can foster critical thinking among the general public, which in turn can prevent people from acting on misinformation.

My advice to anyone using social media is to be informed about the online safety tools that are available. Familiarize yourself with new technologies, such as the increasingly popular field of artificial intelligence (AI). When developing AI tools, it is crucial to consider the data being inputted into these systems. They must be built with a focus on gender equality and inclusivity. Otherwise, there is a risk of perpetuating gender biases within these systems. Therefore, it is important to stay vigilant and monitor these systems to promote gender equality. Recognizing that technology plays a significant role in our future, it is imperative to empower women in this field.

I have always been a firm advocate for challenging stereotypes and combatting inequality and injustice. Moving forward, my commitment remains unwavering, as I strive to create and promote safe digital spaces that can cultivate healthy discussions and contribute to peaceful societies.”