Visaka Dharmadasa is a member of the Women Mediators across the Commonwealth (WMC) network, and Chair of the Association of War Affected Women and Parents of Servicemen Missing in Action. Through her involvement in WMC she is connecting with, and learning from, women mediators across the world and taking part in joint promotion and advocacy initiatives with other members.
Coming from the troubled island of Sri Lanka, Dharmadasa is no stranger to violent conflict. On 27 September 1998 her 21-year-old son, a military officer, went missing when the armed group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) attacked his military base. Twenty years later, Dharmadasa still fights to know the truth about what happened. She has turned her own personal tragedy into motivation to work for justice and build peace.
“Out of my frustration at the lack of information about my son’s disappearance, I founded the Association of War Affected Women and Parents of Servicemen Missing in Action. I quickly realised the only way to stop what had happened to me happening to other mothers was to end the bloodshed.
I led a group of courageous women, all of whom had lost family, into the jungle to meet with members of the armed group. We were able to open up a channel of communication with the fighters and were ultimately credited for bringing the LTTE to the negotiating table. Our success came about because we had a strong base of mothers from both sides. A mother’s voice is very influential when she says ‘No more bloodshed’.
I continue to work to uncover the truth and gain information about the disappeared sons, brothers and husbands. Being a member of the WMC will allow me to take new inspiration from other women working for peace around the world.”