One for womanhood! | Daily News

One for womanhood!

A new time has dawned upon Sri Lanka; the time to make a difference. Instead of focusing solely on their own lives and spending their time with friends, more youngsters are going out to create an impact on the world.

 

Yes I definitely do. And as a Sri Attorney-at-Law Naushalya Manjari Rajapaksha is a youth who has many credentials to her name at a young age. The 24 year old past pupil of Musaeus College, Colombo, was the former Official Youth Delegate of Sri Lanka to the 70th United Nations General Assembly 2015. She was the invited Youth Delegate from Sri Lanka to represent the World Federation of United Nations Associates (WFUNA) for the Inaugural United Nations Forum on Human rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland in November 2016. She was also a Social Change Entrepreneur at the United Nations Population Fund Country Office from 2014 to 2015.

Naushalya was a delegate to the Children and Youth Forum of the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Sendai, Japan, in March 2015 and to The South Asian Political Youth Leaders Study Tour in China in August, 2014. She was also a member of the International Youth Task Force of the World Conference on Youth Sri Lanka held in May, 2014.

Meeting President Maithripala Sirisena at the Sri Lankan Mission to the United Nations in New York with the other youth delegate

A social change maker who plays a leading role in helping the Sri Lankan Government in implementing the UN Convention against Torture and other significant Human Rights, Naushalya also focuses on venturing into the uncharted gaps in the territories of the medico-legal system in Sri Lanka which concerns the rights of both men and women. She has been awarded as an Honorable Nominee for the Best delegate in the Youth Model United Nations Conference (General Committee one: Delegate of India) Representing Royal Institute Colombo in December 2011.

“Ever since school days I was into voluntary work. Rather than making a change I was interested in making sustainable change. I worked towards making the impact of my work last for many years,” Naushalya explained.

Taking oaths as a 23 year old Attorney-at-Law of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Sri Lanka

She considers ‘humbleness’ as her greatest achievement. Though she is employed as a Junior Counsel to Anuja Premarathne PC to acquire knowledge and experience in the field of the Criminal Law System and procedures, Naushalya notes that her journey has not been a bed of roses.

“Back then I was always told that this is not a ‘woman’s profession’. A female lawyer should stick to a corporate firm and to take part in panel discussions. As a criminal lawyer I encounter challenges and break barriers every day,” she said.

Though the women’s representation has been increased in Provincial Councils she questions on who decided to include 25 percent quota for women at the Local Government elections.

“It is a good first step though to push women into the forefront. Women are always laidback and do not like to come out into the public because there is a lot of mudslinging involved in the field. However on the long term this is not the solution. Today it is mostly models, actresses, widows of former MPs or daughters of Ministers who represent the women in the Parliament. There are a lot of educated female professionals around but they do not think of going to Parliament. That thinking pattern and understanding has to be changed,” she opined.

She says that she believes that there are two kinds of problems related to youth in Sri Lanka: the kind of problems that we ‘think’ the youth have and the ‘actual problems’.

“Before I went to New York to take part in the UN General Assembly I covered all nine provinces in Sri Lanka with the aid of the National Youth Council. I spoke to young people across the country and understood their issues and what they want. The issues which concerned the youth differed in each province. I conducted a UN Youth delegation program across the nation encouraging them to apply for the event because I realized that people are not aware about this amazing opportunity for the youth. Millions are spent on us by the citizens in Sri Lanka to take part in the event. I covered more than 2000 youth by visiting universities, creating awareness and training on capacity building for them to apply for the next UN Youth delegation selection process,” Naushalya said. She says that the most important lesson she learnt by taking part in international youth conferences is that Sri Lanka still has a long way to go, knowledge-wise as well as capacity building-wise.

Delivering the national youth statement representing 6.4 million youth at the 70th UNGA

“We get knowledge from what we read and what we see. However I have met people who are much younger than us but are far ahead of us in knowledge. This is mainly due to the exposure and opportunities they get. Their policy makers are quite welcoming towards youth contribution,” she noted.

She has lately narrowed down her youth empowerment initiatives to empowering young women. She headed the first national research advocacy program on sexual harassment in public transport while she was attached to the United Nations Population Fund in 2014/2015. Titled ‘On the Way’ the UNFPA published her report.

“If I get another chance to engage in such a project I would want to research about the perpetrators: on why and what they do. Our focus is solely on the victims – on why and how they got harassed. We never talk to the perpetrator and question about why they harass us. I think it would be a more lasting sustainable change if we could address the mental issue the perpetrator has to harass women rather than put a board saying which number to call if you get harassed. More than name calling them we need to understand their mentality and address those issues,” she stressed.

She notes that the ‘actual problem’ that young women face today is the language barrier. She says that the Northern Province of Sri Lanka is like another world altogether.

“It is sad that we cannot communicate with them properly. A trainer has to convey his or her message through a translator to them even when they take part in a capacity training program. They lose the essence of the process then. Education too needs a big boost as women do not have much avenues open to them. There is a gap in transition from education to work. Somewhere along the line they get trapped. For example a lot of women are topping the batches at Law College. However when you come to courts, it is still a male dominant profession. After passing out the female batch toppers get married, attain motherhood and take up family responsibilities as housewives,” she stressed.

Elaborating on the importance of education Naushalya notes that though youth activities matter it is essential to have a good education.

At the National Law Students Conference which she organised and  chaired

“Invest in yourself too by giving yourself a sound education. Then with experience your words will have weight. Youth not only need to have their voices to be heard but they need their opinions to be taken into consideration,” she mused. She says that Sri Lanka still has the concept of Disaster Risk Management while the world focuses on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).

Conducting one of the youth consultation programs held around the island to capture the real issues and solutions of the youth of Sri Lanka

“They foresee a disaster coming and get ready for it while we wait till the disaster hits us and then take measurements. The United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction 2015’s goal was on gender equality during disaster times. Dry rations are the first things that come to mind when we think of aiding the victims. They do not consider the needs of the women and pregnant women there. Most of our disaster management plans are not gender sensitive,” she said.

Naushalya’s father, Rohan Rajapaksha, is from the accountant field while her mother, Sriyani Rajapaksa, is from the science sector. Her sister, Kaushalya, is into marketing.

“Sri Lanka is a very small country and our key priority is survival. Sri Lanka is known to the world through cricket and tea. However we need to make sure that the world gets to know Sri Lanka in many other ways. One of my ambitions is to be one of the first Sri Lankans to be at the United Nations Committee Against Torture. I want to defend my country against all the human right allegations. I seek that field which Sri Lankan women had not ventured into. Charter into untapped territories. There are so many avenues which we can work on. Do not just try to make a living. Aspire a living,” is her message to the youth.

 

 


 

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