4 December, 2020

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Legalising Sex-Work Debate: Ensure Sharmila’s Safety – Civil Society

“We especially decry efforts of some individuals and organisations to invoke religion and culture to condemn Sharmila, thus potentially inciting extra-legal action against her. Such opportunistic and instrumental use of religion and culture is a threat to meaningful and informed public discourse, and promotes chauvinism and intolerance for which  our country has already paid dearly. We call on state authorities at the provincial and national level to ensure Sharmila’s safety and well-being, for which they bear primary responsibility. We also call on all community leaders, in particular from within the Muslim community, to take measures to ensure that Sharmila and her family are not the subject of any further threats or intimidation.” say Civil Society activists.
Sharmila Seyyid

Sharmila Seyyid

They issued a statement condemning the attack on Sharmila Seyyid on her opinion on Legalising sex-work.

We publish below the full text of  the statement;
On the 20th November 2012, a section of the media reported that Mr. Ajith Prasanna, a member of the Southern Provincial Council from the ruling alliance (UPFA), called for the legalization of sex-work (prostitution) to boost tourism in the country. While sex work as such is not criminalised in Sri Lanka, soliciting sex in public and maintaining of brothels are illegal. If Mr. Prasanna was referring to legalising these issues, we want to make the point that legalization of all kinds of sex-work (while being a topic of debate) is a policy advocated not only by many organisations of sex workers and women’s rights activists around the world, it is also the official policy of many countries. Yet measures such as legalization or decriminalization of sex-work have to be motivated by the aim of protecting the rights and security of women in sex work and enabling them to safeguard their own interests. Legalization driven by concerns such as boosting tourism or generating foreign exchange earnings are not just misguided but also fraught with the risk of jeopardizing the rights of those engaged in sex-work. We therefore strongly disagree with the instrumental approach to legalization of sex-work advocated by Mr. Ajith Prasanna because this only risks further objectifying and commoditizing women’s bodies.
Subsequently, on 20th November 2012, a women’s rights activist from Eravur in Batticaloa, Sharmila Seyyid, during the course of an interview with the BBC (Tamil service) expressed the view that if sex work is legalised in Sri Lanka, it may protect sex-workers. Her comments have resulted in a backlash from some sections within the Muslim community, including threats and intimidation, which has forced her to go into hiding with her child. Her family in Eravur has also been threatened and intimidated, including through an attempt to burn down a montessori school run by Sharmila’s younger sister on 22nd November 2012. We strongly condemn the threats against and intimidation of Sharmila and her family, which undermine the right to express one’s opinions freely concerning issues of public policy (a right which is recognised by the Constitution of Sri Lanka). While informed debate and disagreement are inevitable and to be welcomed on such a complex issue, intimidating or threatening people into silence because their opinions are contrary to the dominant point of view is unacceptable in a democracy. We especially decry efforts of some individuals and organisations to invoke religion and culture to condemn Sharmila, thus potentially inciting extra-legal action against her. Such opportunistic and instrumental use of religion and culture is a threat to meaningful and informed public discourse, and promotes chauvinism and intolerance for which  our country has already paid dearly.
We call on state authorities at the provincial and national level to ensure Sharmila’s safety and well-being, for which they bear primary responsibility. We also call on all community leaders, in particular from within the Muslim community, to take measures to ensure that Sharmila and her family are not the subject of any further threats or intimidation.
We also call on responsible authorities such as Provincial Councillors to refrain from calling for law reform based on commodification of women’s bodies.
Signed by:
Organisations:
1.      Affected Women’s Forum – Akkaraipattu
2.      Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD)
3.      Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), Colombo
4.      Centre for Women’s Research (CENWOR), Colombo
5.      Equal Ground
6.      Mannar Women’s Development Federation (MWDF)
7.      Mullaitheevu Women’s Development and Rehabilitation Federation
8.      Muslim Women’s Development Trust
9.      Voluntary Service and Development Organization for Women
10.  Women’s Action Network
11.  Women’s Coalition for Disaster Management Batticaloa
12.  Women’s Education and Research Centre (WERC)
Names:
13.  A. Renu
14.  A. U. Gunasekera.
15.  Bhavani Fonseka
16.  Cayathri Divakalala
17.  Chulani Kodikara, International Centre for Ethnic Studies
18.  Deanne Uyangoda
19.  Farah Haniffa
20.  Francis Solomantine
21.  Herman Kumara
22. J. Karunenthira, Third Eye Friends Circle
23.  Janakie Seneviratne
24.  Jensila Majeed
25.  Jeyachitra Velayudan
26.  Jovita Arulanantham
27.  Juwairiya Mohideen
28.  K.S. Ratnavail
29.  Kuhanithi Kunachandran
30.  Kumudini Samuel
31.  Lakshan Dias (Attorney at law)
32.  Lakshman F. B. Gunasekara
33.  M. Ganesan
34.  Mahalaxumi Kurushanthan
35.  Maithree Wickramasinghe, Independent Researcher
36.  Mala Liyanage
37.  Mangala Shanker
38.  Marisa de Silva
39.  Melisha Yapa
40.  Mirak Raheem
41.  Muttukrishna Sarvananthan
42.  Navarangini Nadarajah
43.  Nimalka Fernando
44.  P.  P. Sivapragasam
45.  P. N. Singham
46.  Prema Gamage
47.  Prema Gamage
48.  Priya Thangarajah, Legal Researcher
49.  Rajani Chandrasekaran (GBV desk Jaffna)
50.  Rameeza Khan
51.  Rasika Mendis
52.  Ruki Fernando
53.  S. Ithayarani
54.  Sachini Perera
55.  Sarala Emmanuel
56.  Selvy Thiruchandran
57.  Sharmila Haniffa
58.  Sherine Xavier, Home for Human Rights
59.  Shreen Abdul Saroor
60.  Shyamala Gomez
61.  Shyamala Sivagurunathan
62.  Sitralega Maunaguru
63.  Sornalinham
64.  Sumathy Sivamohan
65.  Thushari Madahapola
66.  Vasuki Jeyasankar, Women’s Rights Activist, Batticaloa.
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