The following article is based on ideas shared during the recent residential workshop jointly organized by the Sri Lanka College of Journalism, the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, and Civil Society organizations
Marginalized women such as sex workers, single parents, and widows are among the most vulnerable groups in society, often facing discrimination, social exclusion, and economic hardships. Their stories are essential for social revivification, as they highlight the structural inequalities that exist in society and expose the systemic issues that need to be addressed. Why the life stories of marginalized women are important, why the media needs to respond to their plight, and how the Sri Lankan law enforcement agencies’ responses show a lack of maturity and a disregard for fundamental human values.
The stories of marginalized women matter because they provide insight into the complex issues that these women face on a daily basis. These women often live on the fringes of society, facing multiple forms of discrimination and exclusion. By sharing their stories, we can better understand the root causes of their marginalization and work towards creating a more inclusive and equitable society.
Moreover, marginalized women often have unique perspectives on social issues that are not represented in mainstream discourse. By giving these women a platform to share their experiences, we can broaden our understanding of social problems and generate new solutions that are more responsive to the needs of marginalized communities.
The media has a critical role to play in amplifying the voices of marginalized women and shedding light on the issues they face. It is essential for the press to report on these stories with sensitivity, respect, and accuracy, and to avoid perpetuating harmful stereotypes and stigmatizing language. They must avoid sensationalizing these stories or perpetuating harmful stereotypes that further stigmatize marginalized women. Instead, the media must work towards amplifying the voices of these women and exposing the systemic issues that contribute to their marginalization.
Moreover, the media needs to take an active role in challenging the systems of power that contribute to the marginalization of these women. This includes holding those in positions of authority accountable for their actions and advocating for policies that promote social and economic justice.
The responses of the Sri Lankan law enforcement agencies along with selected “media outfits” in planting acts to raid certain places such as Spas demonstrate a lack of maturity and a disregard not only for professional integrity but fundamental human ethics. These actions not only violate the rights of sex workers but also perpetuate harmful stereotypes and stigmatize marginalized women. The actions of those who are working in these agencies also highlight the need for greater accountability and transparency in law enforcement. It is essential for authorities to respect the rights of all individuals, regardless of their social or economic status, and to uphold the rule of law in a fair and just manner.
One of the cases discussed during the event is a stark example of the crisis that exists in our society, particularly in the behaviour of the judiciary towards marginalized women. The actions of the police, in this case, were not only unconstitutional but also violated the rights of the sex worker in question. Moreover, the judge’s response to her statement was insensitive and demonstrated a lack of understanding of the systemic issues that contribute to the marginalization of women in society.
A woman was apprehended by the police and brought to court on charges of engaging in “adulterous behaviours” in a Colombo suburb. However, she denied the accusation and boldly stated before the judge, “I am unaware that my private parts are state property and not my own.” Moved by her defence, the judge had no choice but to dismiss the case and clear the woman of all charges. It is in situations like these that real-life storytellers have a critical role to play. It is their responsibility to use their platform to raise awareness of the injustices faced by marginalized women and to advocate for their rights. By sharing their stories, these women can inspire others to take action and work towards creating a more just and equitable society.
The real-life stories of marginalized women are critical for social revivification. These stories help us to understand the structural inequalities that exist in society and expose the systemic issues that need to be addressed. It is the responsibility of real-life storytellers to use their platform to raise awareness of these issues and advocate for the rights of marginalized women. Moreover, it is our individual responsibility that plays a critical role in promoting social and economic justice for all individuals, regardless of their social or economic status. This involves building a constructive approach to discussing and sharing real-life stories with sensitivity and respect and advocating for policies that support marginalized communities. That is where the existence of the communal currency of humanity ensures. As Vera Nazarian, a known author, says, “the world is shaped by two things: stories told and the memories they leave behind.” Stories have a powerful impact on shaping our understanding of the world and can help to create a more just and equitable society. Therefore, it is crucial to use each of our platforms to amplify the voices of those who have been historically marginalized and promote narratives that uplift diverse perspectives.