Linked with Save a Family Plan SAFP.
She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
Beena Sebastian’s life and work illustrate how an ordinary woman with no special qualification can change the lives of many people around her. Among her most creative efforts are gender sensitivity training for police and lawyers and instituting an annual award for public officials who have done the most to prevent violence against women. These efforts have helped break the silence surrounding sexual violence in Kerala. She has also set up a shelter for abused women, providing them with both protection and a friend to accompany them to the police and the courts.
It is said: Through her years of working with women victims of violence, Beena began to make the larger connection between conflict in the public sphere and violence in the private domain.
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Beena Sebastian – India
Beena Sebastian was born in 1959 in an ashram in Kottayam, Kerala. The ashram had been set up by her father, who had also founded the Indian chapter of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation in the early 1950s. The ashram continues to serve as an orphanage and a shelter for battered women.
Beena, therefore, grew up with a sense of social responsibility towards the marginalized practically from infancy. Even after she married and moved to Kochi, where her husband’s home was, her focus in life remained unchanged – working to empower the poor, especially women, in Kochi.
In the early 1990s, she began classes in life skills for slum women and girls, many of them immigrants from Tamil Nadu, who came to Kerala seeking work. She also began a successful income-generation project, teaching women the nontraditional skill of making motorcycle batteries. She founded an NGO called the Cultural Academy for Peace (CAP), which also runs a shelter, Sakhi (literally, friend) for abused women and their children. The shelter provides emergency housing and food, legal counseling, and accompaniment to women to the police and court, if necessary. It also offers income-generating work.
Beena is a member of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation IFOR. Her work with Sakhi has inspired African members of IFOR to set up shelters for battered women in their own communities. Beena also began gender-sensitivity training for police and lawyers, aiming to improve legal services and police protection for women in Kochi and the surrounding areas.
In all her years of working with women victims of violence, Beena began to make the larger connection between conflict in the public sphere and violence in the private domain. The impact (of violence) on women in both scenarios, she knew, could be devastating. In 1998, she organized an Asian regional consultation on women and conflict, which brought together 22 women from 12 countries to learn more about each others’ work as peacemakers.
She is an experienced nonviolence trainer and activist. As part of her work on nonviolence training, Beena works on mediation projects like stopping violence in schools. She has initiated a peer education mediation project, which teaches secondary school students how to peacefully resolve conflicts. She also takes this opportunity to educate them on larger issues of peace and disarmament.
Nuclear disarmament is an area that Beena has been working on for some time. Every year on May 24, International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament, she organizes demonstrations in Kochi protesting the nuclear arms race on the subcontinent.
Beena has been actively involved with work on communal harmony. She initiated a pilot project, which surveyed the psychosocial needs of Muslim women after the Gujarat riots. She also promotes UNESCO’s Culture of Peace Program, and has a consistent and comprehensive knowledge of “active nonviolence”.
Another major success Beena achieved has been bringing the issue of sexual violence out into the open – an issue that no one was willing to speak about in Kerala. Even parents would hide evidence of their daughters’ trauma in order to protect their daughters’ “reputation”.
Beena has instituted an annual public award for public officials who have done the most to prevent violence against women. This has helped break the silence surrounding sexual violence, and led to improved services for rape and domestic abuse survivors. The Kochi police are now more sensitive in their handling of rape and domestic violence cases.
Beena has directly helped more than 400 survivors of domestic violence. Most importantly, she has helped raise awareness on the need for women to become involved in issues of peace and security.
Apart from the survivors themselves, Beena has also actively involved female university students in the work of the CAP. She believes that it is important that the new generation understand and be sensitized on these issues.
As she went about following her heart, Beena’s church has consistently frowned upon her work, claiming that the shelter for battered women “breaks up” families.
Also, because of her intervention in several high-profile cases involving young girls trapped in being trafficked, Beena has received threats to her life. That has not deterred her either from sheltering them or from accompanying them to court when they seek legal redress.
Beena’s life and work illustrate how an ordinary woman with no special qualification can change the lives of so many people around her. She has successfully linked domestic abuse (violence in the private sphere), and the arms race (violence in the public arena), blurring the boundaries between the personal and the public, and struggling for peace on both fronts. (1000PeaceWomen).
EKTHA-UNITY, Newsletter of SAFE A FAMILY PLAN SAFP, 12/07.
Existing laws inadequate to check dowry – KOCHI: The former Chief Justice of Kerala High Court K.K. Usha has said that the existing laws to check the custom of dowry are inadequate … Mini Antony, Revenue District Officer, Fort Kochi; C.M. Yoshith, Regional Assistant Director, Department of Social Welfare; Susheela Thomas, president, YWCA; Beena Sebastian, director, Culture Academy for Peace and Lisie Jose, member, Kerala State Women’s Commission, were among the speakers. (full text).
Asking the Right Questions: Gender and Nonviolence.
The chairperson of Sakhi, Beena Sebastian, who presided over the meeting, said that victimised women should be brought back into the mainstream, with the aim of preventing further victimisation. They have to be given occupational therapy so that they are economically empowered. Women’s activists and members of women’s organisations should bring to the notice of the Government and its agencies, the problems faced by women in society. Women’s groups should network so that they are able to perform better, she said … (full text).
WPP proudly presents IFOR nominees for the 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize.
IFOR COUNCIL, 14-20 JUNE 2002 in NEW YORK, 35 pdf-pages;
Beena Sebastian, Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, India, President, The Cultural Academy for Peace and SAKHI: Women Rehabilitation and Family Counseling at the Nonviolent Peaceforce;
MLC Bulletin, Winter 2007.