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16 Days of Activism: Meet Visaka Dharmadasa, Sri Lanka
an article by Nobel Women's Initiative

Video: Visaka Dharmadasa

Each year since 1991, tens of thousands of activists from around the world have taken part in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign. The campaign’s central messages – women’s rights are human rights and violence against women constitutes a violation of human rights – have been a rallying call of the women’s movement. For these 16 days, Nobel Women’s Initiative is spotlighting stories about women activists around the globe.


Visaka Dharmadasa

click on photo to enlarge

Visaka Dharmadasa is the founder and chair of the Association of War Affected Women (AWAW) and Parents of Servicemen Missing in Action. Visaka played a key role in ending the civil war and fostering a lasting peace in post-conflict Sri Lanka, and has emerged as one of the country’s most powerful women leaders.

Beginning in her youth, Visaka spoke out against the injustices around her. As an adult, when war broke out across the country, she began working together with other community members to understand the affects of war on women. In 1998, Visaka’s commitment to end the civil war deepened. Her son, a military officer, was reported missing in action. The war had come to her doorstep, and she knew there was no turning back.

In 2000, Visaka established Parents of Servicemen Missing in Action, an organization dedicated to educating soldiers, youth and community leaders about the international standards of conduct in war and the importance of wearing ID tags during combat. Visaka also began to bring women together across divides in the pursuit of peace. Since its inauguration, AWAW has brought together over 2000 women in Sri Lanka impacted by the war.

Visaka has initiated and been included in numerous peace dialogues with senior government officials. She designed and facilitated the Track II dialogue processes within Sri Lanka, effectively bringing together influential civil society leaders to discuss peace. Visaka is also credited for bringing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to the peace table. Their participation in peace talks eventually led to the brokering of a ceasefire. Visaka was also heavily involved in introducing a National Action Plan on UN resolution 1325 on women, peace and security to Sri Lanka.

In recognition of her work for peace, Visaka was nominated for a collective Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 as part of the 1000 Peace Women Across the Globe and was awarded the prestigious Humanitarian Award in 2006 by Inter Action of Washington. She is a member of the South Asia Small Arms network, Women Waging Peace, and sits on the global advisory council of Women Thrive World Wide.

[Note: Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article.]

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Latest reader comment:

Once again, as they have done now each year since 2009, the Nobel Women's Initiative provides biographies of 16 women leaders involved in local action for peace and justice around the world, and in particular to stop violence against women.  Last year's biographies were listed in the CPNN discussionboard.


This report was posted on November 26, 2013.