Fearless and confident, women lead the way for change in Ampara District


As part of her community project, Mallika Jayamini puts up posters educating her village about the negative impacts of alcoholism.

In Ampara District in Eastern Sri Lanka, 27 women are doing remarkable things for their communities.

Highlights

  • At the national level, women hold less than 6% of seats in National Parliament, less than 5% in Provincial Councils, and less than 3.5% in Local Authorities. Not incidentally, Ampara – the project location - records the lowest number of elected women in local government bodies in the country.
  • As a unique feature, WLDP included family orientation sessions to its programme, which helped to break-down resistances and build-up critical support on the part of parents, husbands and children vis-a-vis the participation of these women in the project.
  • Steps have been taken to affiliate these women with the Government’s Women Development Officers at the divisional level to work collaboratively on women’s issues in their localities.

K. Lalith Kulanayake ran for local elections recently, and made history as the first female to serve in a local government body in the remote division of Lahugala. A.M. Mahira lifted the lid on the taboo subject of child abuse, and her awareness-raising efforts saw a drastic reduction in the number of incidents reported over the past six months in the division of Akkaraipattu. K. L. M. Ayesha formed a women’s collective of organic home-gardeners in the village of Indrasarapura, paving the way for this group to grow, harvest and exchange fruits and vegetables to meet their combined needs.

These are only 3 of 27 inspiring stories.

These are Ampara’s women leaders.

The women are participants of UNDP Sri Lanka’s ‘Women’s Leadership Development Project’ (WLDP), implemented with support from UNDP’s Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR). WLDP worked with 27 women from the Eastern district of Ampara over 15 months, providing them with training and seed-funds to initiate community development activities, as well as facilitating discussions and linkages between the women, their communities and government bodies. Through this, and at a cost of USD 250,000, the project aimed to create a pool of women with confidence, courage and capacities to put their once conflict-affected district back on the road to development.

Across Sri Lanka, it is estimated that close to a quarter of households are headed by women. In former Tsunami and conflict-affected districts, the figures are even higher. In these districts, women not only have more work as breadwinners and caregivers; they are also more vulnerable to increased sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) in post-disaster settings. Across Sri Lanka, women are notably absent in decision-making forums, whether at the community, district or national level. At the national level, women hold less than 6% of seats in National Parliament, less than 5% in Provincial Councils, and less than 3.5% in Local Authorities. Not incidentally, Ampara – the project location - records the lowest number of elected women in local government bodies in the country.

WLDP’s story began in 2010, when 27 women were competitively selected, drawing from different localities, ethnicities and economic backgrounds. Over a period of 9 months, they completed several training modules, covering topics such as gender rights, advocacy and networking, communication, resource mobilization, and organizational and business management. These trainings were tailor-made to address the needs of this group and drew on the crème of national resource-persons.  The women joined exchange visits to each other’s villages. They also visited districts outside their village where they had the opportunity to observe numerous activities including local body meetings and Parliamentary sittings and interact with local government officials, civil society activists and donors.

As a unique feature, WLDP included family orientation sessions to its programme, which helped to break-down resistances and build-up critical support on the part of parents, husbands and children vis-a-vis the participation of these women in the project.

The women also undertook ‘homework’ to field-test their learning. For example, each of them convened and ran a meeting in her village, where villagers joined forced with relevant government officials to draw a solution to a specific problem in the village, such as the lack of safe drinking water or a shortage of qualified teachers.

The women leaders completed the implemention of their own community projects. These were drafted, submitted and presented to an independent panel for approval, and each of the women are now signatories to grant agreements with UNDP. WLDP’s beneficiaries are now UNDP’s partners.

Concerned about the impact of alcoholism in her village, and using her new skills on advocacy and networking, D. M. Mallika Jayamini partnered with the Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC), put-up posters, distributed leaflets, ran mobile street dramas on the negative impacts of alcoholism in the village of Palathuruwella. She recalls it wasn’t easy. Her posters were torn down overnight. “They don’t want to hear what I am telling them. But I’ll keep on telling them” she says laughing, but still tenaciously.

Keen to share her knowledge and skills with a larger group in her area, Salavudeen Risatha has formed a women’s society in Akkaraipattu. Working with the Government’s Women Development Officer for the area, with whom she built links with during the project, she is now running WLDP’s modules for a new pool of women and working with them to design a new wave of community development initiatives. She says, “I come from a conservative Muslim family and someone in my family used to accompany me whenever I went out even for UNDP events. I’m now able to do things alone as a result of the WLDP. Now I feel a real change in myself and my family. I’m happy.”

On July 27th 2011, the 27 women leaders had their own ‘graduation’ ceremony in the presence of the District Secretary, local authority officials, university academics and civil society representatives. The event marked the end of UNDP’s work with this remarkable group.

However, for these women, their work has only just begun. Keen to tap into the newly honed capacities of these women, the District Secretary has drawn up plans to affiliate these women with the Government’s Women Development Officers at the divisional level to work collaboratively on women’s issues in their localities. Similarly, at the local authority stream, this group has been asked to serve as the female representatives in several sectoral working-groups, which had been entirely populated by men to-date. Ampara’s District Secretary encapsulates the sentiments of the district’s government officials when he says, “Women play a key role and contribute a lot for well-being of the society. The project implemented by UNDP creates new opportunities for women to be more responsible and to change their society.”

At their graduation, the women also premiered a song they had composed in both of the national languages. The closing lyrics ran along these lines “We are brave daughters; our learning is our victory, together we can fight and win the world”.

A good start to their story.