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Natalie Soysa On Being A Queer Woman And A Journalist In Post-War Sri Lanka

  • IWB Post
  •  March 28, 2019

Sri Lanka in its post-war era is still dealing with after effects of the civil war and the political scenario hasn’t yet stabilized completely. The recent turmoil caused even more upheaval before the situation was resolved with Ranil Wickremesinghe being sworn in as Prime Minister once again. Amidst such a disturbed environment, Sri Lankan people are struggling to cultivate an equal, accepting, and inclusive atmosphere.

Free media is also something the Sri Lankan population is striving for and citizens, who aren’t journalists, are assuming the mantle and fearlessly advocating for freedom of the press. Frederica Jansz said in her twitter chat with IWB, “Never forget that the purpose of journalism is to serve the public” and these brave denizens are doing just that.

“To find resistance, you need to seek out citizen journalism platforms like http://Groundviews.org  or simply scroll through Lankan social media where several vocal and responsible citizens are making an active stand both online and on-ground,” says Sri Lankan journalist and photographer Natalie Soysa.

During the civil war, Natalie used to work in advertising and it was her desire to get involved and use her voice that made her take up photography and journalism.

In a recent Twitter chat with IWB, Natalie spoke about being a journalist as well as a queer woman in post-war Sri Lanka, her work as a photographer, and the LGBTQ community in her country.

On the experience of being a woman in post-war Sri Lanka

Natalie Soysa on Twitter

@indianwomenblog We have far to go before equality is in sight. And this experience changes from woman to woman based on her marital status, geographical location and other intersecting identifiers. Mobility, agency and representation are still crucially lacking aspects across the board.

On the challenges of being a journalist in Sri Lanka

Natalie Soysa on Twitter

@indianwomenblog The status and security of journalists were under constant threat in Sri Lanka irrespective of gender. Several were abducted, imprisoned or killed for over 20 years. This situation has changed considerably since the current regime took over.

Natalie Soysa on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Lasantha Wickrematunge, assassinated journalist and newspaper editor said it best in his posthumously published editorial: “No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism”.

On freedom of the press in Sri Lanka and resistance

Natalie Soysa on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Media in Sri Lanka is separated into state-owned mouthpieces for government propaganda, and privately-owned media. Real resistance is evident across neither tbh.

Natalie Soysa on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Resistance occurs on many levels and not merely with published work. If we are to align ourselves with the idea that the political is personal, then it must and does extend to our private lives. We resist by our manner of dress and our everyday dialogue wherever we go.

On underground art as a medium of peace

Natalie Soysa on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Visual artists and theatre practitioners in Sri Lanka and across the region already use art as a peace-making tool across communities. Online too, communities are using graphic design as a tool for creating inter-sectional dialogues.

Natalie Soysa on Twitter

@indianwomenblog One such initiative is #FemCon, a platform for feminist conversation and debate. Also, 2 weeks ago, 3 fellow activists and I initiated #BENDR, a digital and on-ground platform for dialogue on all things gender.

On treatment of the LGBTQ Community in Sri Lanka

Natalie Soysa on Twitter

@indianwomenblog The law is fraught with many complexities here. The Sri Lankan Penal Code retains an archaic British colonial era ‘anti-sodomy law’, Section 365, which criminalises “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. Unlike section 377 in India, this is very much in practice in SL

On creating safe spaces for the Sri Lankan LGBTQ

Natalie Soysa on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Some changes have occurred in recent years which have contributed to partial safety. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) strongly supported LGBT issues in the post-war period, going so far as to establish a LGBT subcommittee within the HRCSL in 2016

Natalie Soysa on Twitter

@indianwomenblog The HRCSL intervention and initiatives have occurred as a result of pressure from LGBT rights groups. Additionally LGBT organisations like @_EQUALGROUND_ have drop-in centres and safe spaces for the community to gather and seek help when needed.

On her work regarding the visibility of Queer women

Natalie Soysa on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @_EQUALGROUND_ Sri Lanka is still a little old school in our understanding of non-binary genders and sexualities. This becomes a complex issue for all non-conforming individuals in general because we automatically see non-conformists as “the other” and tend to separate ourselves from them.

Natalie Soysa on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @_EQUALGROUND_ I have often worked on photography and writing projects that engage or feature queer women. As a queer woman myself, this is an important area for me. With our new design and dialogue group BENDR also, we have focused dialogues on LBT issues and identities in Sri Lanka

On her work on the subject of human zoos

Natalie Soysa on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Sexualization and objectification during the human zoo era occurred across genders. Because the exhibitors went to colonised countries to find their exhibits. They wanted to also promote a darker, and thereby lower form of human as a whole. This was how you ‘subjugate the savage’

Natalie Soysa on Twitter

@indianwomenblog The idea perpetuated was an ethnographic one, to enable a class division between ethnicities based on colour and other physical attributes. This was done by enhancing western audiences’ natural human curiosity of the “other” – and yes, this is still very much prevalent today.

Her message to the entire South Asian community

Natalie Soysa on Twitter

@indianwomenblog My message is to those who feel women and men should now dialogue as equals. This isn’t possible until women are acknowledged as equals across the board. Equal and intersectional representation and voice is politics, workplaces and homes.

 

Owing to the diverse albeit rich cultural backdrop of the region, South Asian geopolitics remains unique in its own way. The culture, the religion, and the confusing international narratives have all amalgamated together to give birth to a politics unlike any other in South Asia.

While the social and political movements in the West might inspire us, we need a system of our own to incorporate them as per our surroundings. Our triggers are different, our catalysts are different, our methods are different, and therefore it becomes imperative that our understanding of it must be different too. We cannot see ourselves from the lens of the outsider like a narrative developed with only half-hearted efforts.

IWB recognises that the need right now is to take charge of the situation and facilitate a dialogue among women representatives from South Asian nations like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, and Sri Lanka.

We have thus initiated a series of Twitter chats with women representatives from the South Asian countries mentioned above.

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