Niresha Umaichelvam’s dissertation proposal to investigate domestic violence from a South Asian woman’s perspective, won the £200 prize at the School of Advanced Study’s Human Rights Consortium’s first ‘research SOUP’ event. Below, the City University Master’s student shares the focus of the dissertation and some initial findings from her research.

My dissertation focuses on domestic violence from the perspective of Sri Lankan women living in the UK – assessing how effective this jurisdiction is in offering them protection, and how cultural barriers are overcome. It explores the legislative measures in place in the UK by analysing existing domestic violence law, and how effective protection orders are in securing safety for women. In addition, it considers what legislation is in place in Sri Lanka, including whether any surrounding policies designed to protect women could possibly be implemented in the UK.

As well as assessing, comparing and contrasting the relevant law and policies in these two countries, the first chapter of my dissertation provides an evaluation of whether the UK system of protection could benefit from Sri Lanka’s legislation. The next chapter examines how a woman born and bred in the UK, might deal with domestic violence, and how open they would be to seek support – and what support is in place for them. Here, the various options open to female victims of domestic violence such as a divorce, protection orders, counselling and access to women’s groups, is highlighted. Statistics held by the police on the number of reports by British women of instances of domestic violence are included in this chapter.

To compare experiences, this section of the dissertation looks at domestic violence from the point of view of a woman who was born in Sri Lanka and migrated to the UK. It considers not only the possible immigration hurdles these women may have faced, or will face, but also scrutinises what impact (if any) an arranged marriage might have on their wellbeing, how open they can be about seeking appropriate support. This area of the research takes into consideration the level of understanding of the UK’s legal processes among Sri Lankan women.

Although not complete, my research has already revealed that, largely due to cultural norms, there is a strong stigma within Sri Lankan families about vocalising domestic violence. Women in this community are not open to speaking up about abuse with many suffering in silence to protect their families, and to uphold the family name. The women who do speak out are considered to have disrespected their husbands and bringing shame to them by breaking the silence.

India’s declaration in 2013 that 68 per cent of the country’s women were victims of domestic violence, kick-started an ‘abused goddess’ campaign by India’s ‘Save our Sisters’ women’s empowerment initiative, which uses images of scarred Hindu goddesses to raise awareness of anti-sex trafficking and domestic violence. I will investigate whether this innovative campaign has had any impact on levels of domestic violence, what measures Sri Lanka has introduced to help counteract this offence, and if it has had any influence on the issue within the UK’s Sri Lankan community.

Drawing on cases from both Sri Lanka and the UK, my final chapter will conclude with a decision as to just how effectively Sri Lankan women in the UK are protected against domestic violence. I will propose a range of recommendations for how the UK government can engage and incorporate Sri Lankan migrant women in order to end the taboo of speaking out against domestic violence.

 Featured ‘abused goddess’ image courtesy of (Pranav Bhide’s portfolio)