Sri Lanka: The 'twin maladies' of gender and ethnicity in covering conflict

Freedom of Expression Sri Lanka & IRIN
Krishni Ifham Kanthasamy, President of the Tamil Speaking Women Media Organisation, says there has never been a time when Tamil speaking women journalists felt as threatened as they are today.
“The harassment is coming from all quarters and our approximately 50 members do not lead easy lives. In fact they live in fear, do their jobs in fear and enjoy no perks and benefits and have no hopes of bettering their careers,” said the concerned President of the Organisation, winner of the Best Tamil Journalist of the Year for three consecutive years.
“I personally know of several journalists who have faced awkward situations and endured problems because of the ‘twin maladies’ in today’s context of gender and ethnicity. This is not fair and my fight is for justice to prevail and we must be treated with the respect that is due to the profession,” said Kanthasamy.

As the first defence reporter in the Tamil media, Krishni IfhamKanthasamy says that she pursued her career amidst a myriad of obstacles and challenges related to social, cultural and gender based harassment. “Ethnic bias and security risks were the other bug bears that stood on the way to progress,” said a harassed Kanthasamy.


But it is not her own difficulties and challenges that she wishes to draw attention to. Her concern is for the Tamil speaking women in media who are struggling to report hardship, harassment and difficulties while enduring the same trauma in their own lives.

“I am very sensitive towards issues faced by women and children who are affected in the war zone in Sri Lanka and have written many articles about them,” said Kanthasamy. “In fact all members of our association - the Tamil speaking women in media are concerned about each other and about what is happening around us. We formed our organisation on April 6, 2005 with a view to solving our problems,” said Kanthasamy.

She went on to say that the women journalists seldom or never got the opportunity to undergo training. “We have no opportunity for training and no workshops are being conducted for us. When those women who wish to become journalists try to pursue their chosen career, they are hired and put on as trainee sub editors. Where is the training, where is the professionalism that ought to be instilled in Tamil speaking women journalists and why this difference only for Tamil speaking women journalists,” queries a concerned Kanthasamy.

Many hardships

We have undergone many a hardship. When the organisation was formed we had no place to meet either. We were given the opportunity to meet every month by Manique Mendis who was the CEO of the Press Complaints Commission at that time. Not only were we given the space, but also care and refreshments. Our members travelled from as far as Badulla, Kandy and the north and east,” said a grateful Kanthasamy.

“I wish to draw attention to the sad fact that some of our members are harassed within their own organisations. There are several members who have reported that they have been sexually harassed and this harassment is not only from the outside but in some cases from within their own organisations. But these women have borne all this anguish and have strode on, doing their jobs to the best of their ability,” said Kanthasamy.

Kanthasamy drew attention to the fact that women journalists too have bills to pay and lives to lead and thus are forced to endure the difficulties in their path.

Krishny Ifham Kanthasamy also went on to point out that Tamil speaking women of the media undergo much harassment at checkpoints. “I know of members who were arrested and released thereafter. One member was arrested on Press Freedom Day because she had her SLBC office card but not the Press Identity Card,” recalled Kanthasamy.

“Too frightened to do our job

“We have reached a point where we are too frightened to do our job. The media died after the death of Lasantha Wickrematunge. It will take a long time for a fearless journalist of the calibre of Lasantha Wickrematunge to emerge. But still there are doubts, there can only be one Lasantha. Today there is no one to write about freedom, no one to write about the threats and no one to write about the real situation because everyone is scared to write anything controversial,” pointed out Kanthasamy.

“I know that there are several journalists who are going overseas. But there are also people like me who do not want to leave this country, but want to stay and write the facts,” she said.

Manique Mendis, CEO of the Business for Peace Alliance who is also the patron of the Tamil Speaking Women Journalists Association when contacted by The Sunday Leader said that Tamil speaking women journalists in Sri Lanka is a marginalised group. They are working amidst a myriad of challenges relating to culture, social barriers and security. By getting together and forming an association they are able to discuss common issues and problems and meet challenges more effectively. They are making a difference in journalism and the development of Sri Lanka, said Mendis.

22 March 2009

Posted by Sunanda Deshapriya

Source: Freedom of Expression Sri Lanka