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Monday, October 22, 2001

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Voicing their concerns

Battered by the person they trust most or assaulted by strangers, harassed at home or in the workplace, subjected to mental or physical torture, a staggering number of women across the world are victims of violence in some form or other. Neither class, race nor nationality protects them from being at the receiving end of the chauvinistic, misguided male, generally the perpetrator of the violence though their own sex can also be the oppressor.

Zonta International held the District 25 Sixth District Conference at the Taj Connemara Hotel on October 12 and 13.

The theme of this year's workshop, which was organised by the Zonta Club of Colombo and Madras, whose president is Ann Gonsalvez and secretary, Janaki Krishnan, was ``Eradication of Violence against Women in the region through legislation, advocacy and action.''

On the inaugural day, Mala Sabaratnam of Colombo, Governor of District 25, who presided over the conference, introduced the theme of the Biennium: ``We chose to make a difference.'' Tracing the change in the status of women over the period of time, she spoke of the need to empower women to meet the challenges and Zonta's commitment to the goal.

Mrs. Sarojini Varadappan, the chief guest, discussed the forms of violence that prevailed against women with particular relation to South Asia. She said there should be a continual consolidated effort to fight it.

The guest of honour, Judge Mary Ellen Bittner, vice- president, Zonal International, introduced the objectives of Zonta and the various service projects it has launched in addressing violence and discrimination against women the world over.

The other guest of honour, Deputy High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Chennai, Mr. R. Jayasinghe, described the measures adopted by the Sri Lankan Government to help in the eradication of violence against women. District Secretary, Mano Ramanathan proposed the vote of thanks.

At the workshop the next day, Ms. Sheila Sriprakash, the Area Director of District 25 introduced the speakers.

Lawyer Sudha Ramalingam, Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, pointed out how there was no dearth of laws to protect the rights of women. What is lacking is the will to enforce them. She related instances of how women's rights are violated in police stations and stressed that women should be educated about their rights.

Prema Rajagopalan, Assistant Professor, Department of Humanities, IIT, Chennai, said the unequal set of relationships between men and women are related to issues of power and positions in society, which in turn reinforce patterns of gender and dominance. Women in Usilampatti resort to female infanticide in order to conform with the unwritten laws of society, which seek to explain gender differences as contributing to social stability and integration. But just as there is a powerful element of statics in society, there is equal scope for dynamics and change.

Dr. Prasanna Poornachandra of the International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care, Chennai, in her presentation said violence is the leading cause of injuries among women in the 15-49 age group. She identified the forms of domestic violence and detailed measures and intervention for awareness programmes to tackle it.

The country papers presented by Nina John of the Zonta Club of Madras, Savithri Wijesekera of Colombo, Mayeeda Chowdhury of Dhaka and Safia Rahman of the Chittagong clubs dealt with the way women are treated in a patriarchal society and measures and legislation taken by the various countries to deal with the issue of violence.

— K.S.

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