- Provides trilingual support for those affected by online violence
By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
Given the prevalence of online gender-based violence (OGBV) in Sri Lanka, Hashtag Generation and Delete Nothing recently launched an ecosystem named “Prathya”, through which trilingual support services will be provided for people, specifically women, girls, and trans and queer people affected by online violence.
This ecosystem is made up of several elements, one of which is a trilingual hotline 0777955900, which is dedicated to providing technical support as well as referrals to legal aid and psychosocial support networks. “Prathya” will also document experience via the Delete Nothing trilingual documentation tool, which will systematically document and record the experiences and testimony of persons affected by online violence across Sri Lanka.
There is also a trilingual online and offline outreach and dissemination campaign to raise awareness on the issue of online violence. Delete Nothing and Hashtag Generation also plan to disseminate research findings and evidence-based advocacy recommendations to policymakers and other relevant stakeholders.
Speaking at the launch of “Prathya”, Sanjana Ravi of Hashtag Generation said the organisation was a movement led and run by a group of young, tech-savvy, socially conscious Sri Lankans advocating for meaningful civic and political participation of youth. “What we are aiming to create with ‘Prathya’ is a safe space where anyone can just speak and be heard and we will listen and create an ecosystem or community built on technical values and care,” Ravi explained.
Meanwhile, Delete Nothing Co-Creator and Prathya Project Advisor Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala shared that Delete Nothing is a trilingual online documentation resource tool and a site that provides online resources to people affected by online gender-based violence.
“We understand that people who go through online gender-based violence very often go through a very traumatising process,” Kuru-Utumpala said, adding: “We are talking about a very topical issue. It is something that has affected many of us or our friends. We also know that when this happens and if you are someone who has been affected by online gender-based violence, when you seek support, it’s not easy.”
What the data says
Hashtag Generation Social Media Specialist Saritha Irugalbandara, who mainly works with data, used these numbers to enlighten the audience on how big an issue online gender-based violence is in Sri Lanka. Citing the 2021 study “Somewhere Only We Know” by Sachini Perera and Zainab Ibrahim, Irugalbandara said: “This focused on the LGBTQI+ community, and 62% of the respondents reported that they have received abusive comments online, 56% reported that they received unwanted images that were pornographic, sexually explicit, or demeaned women, and less than 10% actually saw any accountability from the justice system.”
Irugalbandara went on to say that what we say online is what we think offline, making online gender-based violence an everyday violence. “It is part of the everyday violence women and gender-diverse people have to endure.”
The team is also currently carrying out mapping, an ongoing process where they have already spoken to 28 organisations and individuals, which Delete Nothing Co-Creator Sachini Perera said would help them better understand the challenges faced in this area, the support that is required, and the resources the Government should focus towards these issues.
The need for support and care
Shedding light on the need for support and an ecosystem like “Prathya”, Delete Nothing Co-Creator Zainab Ibrahim said that what they hear from persons affected by OGBV is that they do not always receive the kind of systematic support they want or need. “Sometimes when they do go to institutions, they face further shaming or stigma or other prejudices, and that is a deterrent for people trying to seek support.”
In addition to this, not everyone wants to go to law enforcement, and may instead want different care and support.
“It was in the face of this context that Delete Nothing and Hashtag Generation came together to collaborate on trying to provide an ecosystem, which is a collection of support services trying to address the aspects of this issue,” Ibrahim explained.
The organisers also gave individuals working with communities the opportunity to share their thoughts on online gender-based violence and the need for support systems. Roshan De Silva, a health and human rights advocate who has been engaged in the field of sexual health, human rights, and LGBTQI+ rights for over two decades, spoke about how in today’s world, our connections are made via the phone, through which we also encounter harassment, where we can’t often see the individuals on the other side of it.
It has become normalised, he said, adding that data is lacking in this area as many don’t even think to report or talk about it. However, when they do decide to seek help from law enforcement, they are further violated and discriminated against, especially when they are part of the LGBTQI+ community.
Northern Sri Lanka
Focusing on what communities in the Northern parts of the island experience, was Priyadarshani Wijeratnam, an independent consultant and researcher engaged in social development, who is also a founding member of Create Initiative International, an organisation working with youth and women in Jaffna to create initiatives that focus on reconstructing society.
She spoke about the reality in the North, which often gets missed out, and said the digital community there is very much like any other and that the online word translates to the offline and vice versa. What is tough is tackling the root causes of these issues.
Wijeratnam also spoke about the country’s low digital literacy levels and cultural issues, saying that initiatives like “Prathya” are important for this reason, as many are afraid to speak up.