Exclusive surroundings are being created in Colombo and other main cities of Sri Lanka. Ads of apartments and housing schemes with English names describe peaceful and beautiful landscapes. As we see these new constructions appearing rapidly in the urban scenario, we don’t dedicate much time or planning to reflect on the possibility of creating spaces where new roles based on tolerance and respect can be built. No government has so far effectively implemented a vision to eradicate violence against women and discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, social status, among other factors. We are surrounded by consumerism, by individuals that are just interested in what they wear and where to have a good time, while others simply satisfy what they call “their needs” no matter how. You buy or you take it – simple as that.
Modernity and Development are two words widely used everywhere. We all are led to assume we live in a modern society, but modernity cannot be assimilated to reproducing sexist and abusive roles against women and children. Women are being killed by relatives, by their partners, by their own children. Children are abused and killed by those they learn to trust. This is the present scenario.
A real transformation of our country compels us to further reflect about the construction of new spaces and how social relationships are affected. Houses are built in areas under family or neighborhood disputes that cannot be settled. The distortion of values and needs come to the scene provoking conflicts and the possibilities to develop a safety network within the community become hard to exist. Distrust and lack of belonging exacerbate an already existing environment of violent behavior. There is no one you can trust or there is no one out there to really assist you if you or your family are in danger.
Restrictions and disruptions in the movements of the individuals in and out of the house can affect their mental health. Some of them, men and women, do not want to go home till late atnight because they feel unhappy, trapped in violent family relationships. The deterioration of conditions of life has also contributed to generate citizens that are more and more forced to leave their children behind under no supervision or proper care provided by the community or the state, because parents have to produce an income. More and more women go abroad, especially to the Middle East, to work as maids. Some of them have been subjected to torture and even killed.
The modification of the urban landscape has provided certain areas for recreation and entertainment not only physically, with the addition of green areas, but also virtually, through the emergence of electronic communications, and by building a “virtual city”. In that environment, unacceptable behaviors are not really different whether done face to face or using technology. Again the feeling of being insecure and vulnerable comes to place. More offenses are committed using technology with a sense of impunity. We then face what has been referred to as “online” and “offline” abuse, two overlapping scenarios that potential victims, especially women and girls, are facing.
Our modern landscape necessarily includes these two levels, whatever policies or measures to be adopted to fight violence must include both areas. We all live in a physical city and a virtual one, and violence is out there.
A real transformation of the space pushes us to further reflect about the impact of the changes we are implementing in our cities. How will the social order be affected? Gender sensitive designs must be part of a strategy to protect dignity, generate a secure environment and prevent violence in the city against women and children.