Before the protests, before this became a debate about race, political affiliations, and law, even before her body was found, happened something that happens every day in Sri Lanka. Something that we need to talk about. It doesn’t matter if she’s Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or Burgher. She’s a citizen of this country. She’s a daughter; Sri Lanka’s daughter. Every day an average of 18 girls are raped in Sri Lanka. This is an issue that has gone unaddressed for far too long. And it’s time we start looking for long term solutions to it.
Every 90 minutes a girl or a woman in Sri Lanka is forced to have non-consensual sex. This is no coincidence. In societies with education systems that promote male superiority, don’t address the concept gender equality and respecting women, or the ethics of sex, and the only sex education men and women get is through pornography and antiquated societal norms and gender stereotypes, of course there will be high rates of rape. We live in a society where girls are taught from a very young age that they have to be careful, and behave a certain way, unlike boys. Our culture is built upon disciplining girls, although, every day, it is mostly men who commit crimes against women.
While those responsible for the rape and murder of Vidya will be brought in front of the law, nothing can bring back Vidya or justice the inhumanity faced by the thousands of girls raped in Sri Lanka every year. The law can only prosecute, it cannot protect. I believe the only sustainable solution to this: is education. We, as a culture need to rethink the fundamentals of how we bring up our children and the education system that we put them through. Think about the gender inequality we promote through it, the way we carefully ingrain to the minds of society that women are inferior to men.
We neglect sex education to such an extent that Sri Lanka is ranked number one in the world for googling the term ‘sex’. Most of the porn industry is fundamentally dominated by the idea of objectifying women. It fantasizes situations like gang-rape. It promotes the concept of women being inferior, and mere sexual objects. In Sri Lanka’s culture, the objectification of women is at such a high level that “baduwa,” the Sinhala term used in our society to casually objectify women, directly translates to “object.” Why are we so reluctant to educate our children about gender equality and consent? Why are we so shy and resistant towards having open conversations with our children about respectful intimacy, the issue of sexual harassment and the unjust and inhumane nature of it? We shouldn’t just be educating children about sex as a means of reproduction (as our national school curriculum does right now). We should teach them about intimacy and the concept of consent and respect that it involves. We have been using “our culture” as a defense against sex education for far too long and it is girls like Vidya that pay the price for it every single day. The price has come to a point that we can’t afford.
It is too late to educate most men about gender equality. I learn this every day from the amount of sexism that I face and have faced since I was a child. But, this shouldn’t discourage us. Our goal must not be to fix the broken but to set up policies that ensure the safety of the unbroken, the unborn; those who are forced by society to be broken. Recognizing the fact that it is too late for some, that there are many who are too broken to fix, is the first step to accomplishing change. They should be our motivation, our stepping stone. If we start now, our children and their children may not have to experience the unjust, unspeakable, inhumane violence that Vidya did. Education reform is the only way.
*Thisuri Wanniarachchi, 21, is the author of novels The Terrorist’s Daughter and Colombo Streets. She is Sri Lanka’s youngest State Literary Award winner and the world’s youngest national nominee to the prestigious Iowa International Writers’ Program. She is currently an undergraduate student and full scholar of Bennington College studying Political Economy and Education Reform.