In the words of Ruwan Hettiarachchi: “It’s important to involve men in conversations about gender equality”
Interviewer: Veenadari Lakshika Jayakody
Ruwan Hettiarachchi, 34, is a counselling officer at the National Committee on Women, Ministry of Women, Child Affairs and Social Empowerment, Sri Lanka. In October 2022, he attended trainings on women, peace and security that UN Women conducted for more than 130 public sector officials in four districts. The training was part of UN Women’s three-year project, Implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda in Sri Lanka, funded by the Government of Japan. As part of the project, UN Women provided technical assistance for the development of the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security that Sri Lanka adopted in March this year. The plan supports women affected by conflict and crises, and promotes their equal participation in maintaining peace and security.
“At the beginning of the year in 2022, the number of complaints we received (at) the national women’s helpline – 1938 – multiplied, and most of these complaints were related to domestic violence. At the National Committee on Women, we offer legal advice and counselling support to women. There are, however, many challenges. When women go to the police, they are sent back home without any protection measures. They are advised to talk to their abusive partner and sort out any issues by themselves. This makes the issue worse, and they end up facing even more violence.
Counselling is important because women who go through these issues can feel suicidal. They are reluctant to get a divorce because they don’t want their children to not have a father. This has a lot to do with social pressure. Sometimes the older generation says “We also went through a lot,” and dismisses women’s experiences of domestic violence. Society teaches women to tolerate abuse and as a result, women end up staying in abusive marriages.
The training on women, peace, and security conducted by UN Women taught me empathy. I understood better the different challenges that women face on a daily basis. Especially when it comes to reaching their full potential, which is often hindered by harmful social norms and gender-based violence.
It’s important to involve men in conversations about gender equality. It’s also important to educate boys about gender equality from a young age.
As individuals, we can make a change. And we can do this within our own families. At home, my wife and I don’t divide work as men’s work or women’s work – which is often the root cause of gender-based violence. If we can create more awareness about these issues, we can overcome them.”