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As a part of Damrivi’s programme on "Violence against Women - A Buddhist Perspective" a full day workshop was held at Buddhasravaka Bhiksu University in Anuradhapura on 9th November 2009. The objective of the workshop was to workout modalities for taking the message about violence against women to the general public and the role of the Maha Sangha in this mission and also to strategise the key interventions by the members of the Maha Sangha. The workshop commenced with the lighting of the traditional oil lamp by the Vice Chancellor of Buddhasravaka Bhiksu University, Venerable Dr. Tumbulle Seelakkhandha Nayaka Thero who presided the forum and other resource personnel and the distinguished guests.
25 members of the Maha Sangha including 5 nuns, all from the Anuradhapura district participated in the workshop as social mobilizers with the intention of carrying the message to the society. The Bhikkhus included senior academics lead by its Vice Chancellor Ven. Dr. Thubulle Seelakkhanda Nayaka Thero and other distinguished monks and nuns from Anuradhapura District.
Professor Asanga Tilakaratne, professor of Buddhist studies at the University of Colombo and Chairman of Damrivi Foundation delivered the opening address explaining the objectives of the workshop. He stated that this workshop is to identify the monk’s role in this mission and through this the role of the Buddhist temple in the village can be re-defined and will acquire a new meaning. He stressed that the right of the monk to intervene in this regard is well within the mandate of a monk and it is their right and duty both to uphold justice by their female dayakas. He said ‘just as much as we teach our children elocution, the monks should teach our society the ‘art of elegant living’.
Professor Oliver Abeynaiyaka, emeritus Professor of Buddhist Studies discussed the women’s status in Buddhist culture and literature. He observed that there is hardly any reference in Buddhist texts to incidents of violence against women . As such he stated that being unkind to women is alien to the Buddhist society.
While stressing the dignity of woman in the Buddhist society he stated that the members should recognize the power of the Maha Sangha in our society and consolidate this power and direct it to combat gender based violence ( GBV). He stated that it is the female dayakas who keeps the temple going in every sense and that the monks owe it to them to speak for them.
Speaking at the workshop Dr. Lakshman Senanayaka , Obstetrician and gynaecologist, the author of the book published by Damrivi , ‘Violence against women-A Buddhist perspective ‘ presented the situational report consisting of statistics and case studies on violence against women in our Sri Lankan society. He presented the statistics relating to violence against women with reference to the whole Island and also presented his experience in identifying and treating these victims in his capacity as a doctor. He stated ‘ the new trends of violence against women emerging in our society , the victims of which we see in the hospitals are against all social and cultural norms and are alarming’.
Dr. Palitha Bandara, Director of Health, North Central Province discussed the serious situation of violence against women in the Anuradhapura district. He reasoned out the present increase of gender based violence as mainly due to private media, alcohol, early marriages and young motherhood.
Dr. Pushpakumara Kandapola Arachchci , consultant psychiatrist and trustee of Damrivi Foundation discussed the four aspects of violence as physical, verbal, sexual and mental and the psychological impact of such violence. He said apart from depression and suicidal tendencies , many victims who come for treatment to them are examined for serious complaints such as weakening of eye sight, regularly becoming unconscious, fits, and other physical disabilities etc. outwardly not connected to the incident and anti social behaviour of children are all psychological impacts of GBV.
Dr. Praneeth Abeysundara senior lecturer of sociology department of University of Jayawardenapura explained the sociological aspects of the violence against women. He attributed the deterioration of cultural values in society mainly to the impact of the visual media. He urged the monks to come out strongly against the private media contributing to GBV. He stated that there is a strong suspicion that certain private media is carrying out a systematic campaign against the cultural values. He urged the Maha Sangha to speak out strongly against these. He said ‘there are songs today that are played in the private media which undermine even the accepted sleeping postures within our value system. Venerable sirs teach our society the art living, otherwise the television will teach them’. Responding to Dr. Praneeth’s presentation, Prof. Tilakaratne appealing to the monks to rise against the tide to find solution to our problems observed that it is very unfortunate that even some monks get caught up in the ‘randepaya’.
Ms. Malathi Weerasooriya, Deputy representative of UNFPA, discussed the importance of advocacy and communication in reducing violence against women in Sri Lanka. She emphasized the importance of educating people on the root causes of GBV and its impact on society. She further emphasized on the need to create awareness of current laws and regulations to protect against GBV.
At the end of the said presentations by the resource persons , a discussion forum was held providing the participating monks the opportunity to directly interact with the resource persons for further clarifications.
The second session of the workshop was designed to obtain the participants’ inputs to strategize possible interventions by the Maha Sangha for addressing the issue of GBV. The participants were divided into three groups and given a questionnaire to brainstorm and come out with their solutions using their experience and knowledge of the society. In this group discussions the participants specifically deliberated on the following questions ;
At end of the second session each group was given the opportunity to summarize their discussion and present their proposals to the forum. All participants unanimously greed that it is proper for the members of the Maha Sangha to intervene to minimize GBV and it is their obligation to do so. Each group presented an array of proposals for key interventions by the Maha Sangha.
There will not be a temple without the Kulagana Samiti , avoid ‘trendy sermons’ for cheap popularity and get to know
the families in the village through the 'dana list' - Dr. Venerable Tubulle Seelakandha Nayaka Thero
Dr. Venerable Tubulle Seelakandha Nayaka Thero presented the synopsis of the workshop. In doing so, the Nayaka Thero urged the participants to reflect on the extent to which the community of monks discharge their obligations towards this cause . Relating his personal experience of how he dealt with a case of violence against a particular unknown woman who spoke to him on the phone with her tale of woe all the way from Colombo and finally his success in bringing both husband and the wife to the path of Dhamma, he urged the monks to become a kalyana mitta to the dayaka families, to avoid ‘trendy sermons’ for cheap popularity , to get to know the families in the village through the ‘dana list’ , to manage time well, be alert to the damage done by the media etc. as means to addressing this problem. He summarized ‘there will not be a temple without the ‘kulagana samiti’ ( the temple committee of female disciples). The Nayaka Thero in his address also, drew attention to the harassment to aged women by way of burdening of grandmothers for bringing up their grand children.
At the end of the workshop participants were given another opportunity to interact with the resource persons to further discuss the issues highlighted during the workshop. Mr. Dhammika Wettewe, General Manager of the Damrivi Foundation concluded the workshop with the delivery of the vote of thanks.