Through the Lens: Life and Politics in Asia | Society | South Asia

Silent Victims of Sexual Abuse in Sri Lanka’s Trade Zones

The majority of the workforce in the zones comprises of women, who continually face sexual harassment in their workplaces.

By Harshita Rathore for

The establishment of 14 special trade zones in Sri Lanka has no doubt boosted the country’s economy. However, this growth has come at a high price. The majority of the workforce in the zones comprises of women, who continually face sexual harassment in their workplaces. Activists estimate that about 90 percent of them are molested at least once during their tenure.

These women, most of whom work in garment factories, are poor and marginalized. Most come from the country’s north and northeast, the scene of a two-decade long civil war by Tamil Tiger guerrillas who were militarily defeated in 2009. At least 70,000 civilians died in the war, according to human rights groups.

As we observe International Workers’ Day 2020, here’s a video interview with Ashila Mapalagama, director of Stand Up Movement Lanka, a network created for garment workers to address their grievances. She describes what sexual harassment looks like in these trade zones and why its incidence is so high.