Turn the page on poverty

Dousing violence against women with water

A tsunami camp water tank carries messages from the campaign to end violence against women.
A tsunami camp water tank carries messages from the campaign to end violence against women. The text reads 'equality is necessary'

More women than men lost their lives to the tsunami, and women survivors continue to face problems of increased domestic violence. In Sri Lanka, water tanks in tsunami camps are providing an unexpected platform for campaign messages.

Working together

Shanthi Sivanesan is an Oxfam Gender and Protection officer in Batticaloa, on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka. Here she explains how organisations are working together to combat violence against women.

"Gender and Protection staff from different organisations in Batticaloa district formed a Women’s Coalition for Disaster Management.

"From the very beginning we heard about harassment and abuse against women in the camps – mostly within families.

"Beneficiaries and camp officers would tell us about it, and sometimes we could even hear fighting and beating from within tents as we walked through camps.

"We organised a half-day Gender and SPHERE training workshop for camp managers, but we knew that wasn’t enough. We knew that somehow we had to get the message of stopping violence against women through – all the way to the community.

Water tanks as canvas

"We were discussing how we could bring the messages on ending violence against women into the camps. Suddenly we had the idea of painting the messages on water tanks.

"The tanks make perfect canvases – and they are gathering places so lots of people would see the messages.

"It’s also a place where a lot of harassment takes place – it gets crowded, and there is a lot of shouting and no privacy. We thought it would be a good place.

"We took images from the campaign and hired two artists to paint them. We were able to get the images up quickly.

"They carry messages on how violence against women affects the whole family. They also show that it is important to give women privacy, for example when they are bathing outside.

"We have also given positive messages about families living together in equal relationships. And we have put up picture boards that list alternatives to violence, things that you can do when you are angry.

Talking point

"The tanks are really colourful and they attract a lot of people. The images are clear and we know that people who know how to read tell others what the words mean.

"It has been really successful. People stand around the tanks discussing the images. Other camp leaders have come to us to say they want the same for their water tanks "

Oxfam has since put more tanks with paintings in other camps.