Sri Lankan Psychology Education Lacks Information on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Although Sri Lanka elected the first female prime minister in the modern world in 1960, Sri Lankan women, including lesbians, bisexual women, and trans persons (LBT) have been facing unequal treatment on a daily basis – including gender-based violence (GBV). Given the high level of gender-based violence in the country, it is important for more academic institutes in Sri Lanka to integrate gender, including LBT issues, into their academic curriculum, particularly for students of psychology.

The application of psychology theories and concepts to real life affects people of all gender identities and sexual orientations. Women who are survivors of GBV are often in need of counseling to deal with the consequences of the violence. LBT survivors of GBV are also highly susceptible to harmful effects of this violence on their mental well-being, but are often misunderstood by mental health professionals and denied sensitized services.

The World Health Organization’s Report on Country Policies and Strategies for Combating GBV (Sir Lanka), says that Sri Lankan women (heterosexual and cisgender/non transgender) may experience mental disturbances, suicide, attempts at suicide as a result of GBV. In 2014, OutRight Action International released a report on the prevalence and impact of violence against LBT people in five Asian countries, including Sri Lanka. In this report, the most commonly reported mental health issues within the LBT community were depression, anxiety, self-harming behaviors, anger, frustration, and fear, stemming from previous violence, trauma, and for future similar violent experiences.

Alongside legal efforts to reduce GBV, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed that Sri Lanka also employs social services for combating GBV, specifically, setting up facilities for helping survivors of GBV through counseling services. People who have been professionally and systematically trained in psychology, especially clinical psychology, are therefore needed for mental health interventions, not only for heterosexual and cisgender women, but also for LBT persons.

In a shadow report to the Human Rights Committee, OutRight Action International asked the Committee to recommend to the Sri Lankan government that the Ministry of Women and Children hold hearings on the effects of violence within the family on LBT people (e.g. how violence impacts mental health, education, poverty reduction, gender equality) as part of the Ministry’s action plan on ending violence against women, including domestic violence.