From voices to choices | Daily News


Inspirational publication launched to mark International Women’s Day

From voices to choices

Women can no longer be called ‘victims of discrimination’ in some societies. Women’s Day was celebrated on Sunday and now there is contention between people as to whether it is time to stop looking at women as a group of people who are discriminated against. At least for Women in Sri Lanka times have changed! These are hard facts. If you take Sri Lanka, we see so many women in powerful positions. Yes, there is a lack of female participation in politics, but that will all soon change. But can we say that in Sri Lanka females are excluded when it comes to education and when it comes to employment?

British Council has played a pivotal role here. It was founded in 1934 and throughout its existence it has been an advocate for female rights not just in Sri Lanka but in the entire world. But it has to a great extent achieved its objective. Yes, there are still reports of atrocities committed against women but atrocities happen to men as well! Recently on FB, there was a report about a little boy named Maurice Torres who was raped with a stick and had his teeth pulled out by his own father. The boy died of septic shock.

Last week the British Council in partnership with Foundation for Innovative Social Development (FISD) launched an inspirational publication titled – ‘Transforming Communities: Voices and Choices of Women and Girls’.

The publication is written evidence that women are now living in a world where they are empowered. Country Director, British Council in Sri Lanka, Gill Caldicott, stated that women still face certain issues in Sri Lankan society. Caldicott pointed out that the theme of international women’s day 2020 is– ‘I am Generation Equality, realizing women’s rights for an equal future’. This is proof that women’s rights have been upheld and defended. The publication is living evidence.

The publication is based on the project ‘Transforming Communities: Voices and Choices of Women and Girls’. It involved 200 women and 100 young girls in the Anuradhapura, Moneragala and Hambanthota districts. These females have contributed to the well being of their communities and changed the lives of women and girls, giving women a voice.

Caldicott stated that she feels that there has been some progress, but real change has been agonizingly slow. This is for the majority of young girls in the world. Caldicott certainly has a point. If you take social media, the most powerful being FACEBOOK, we see reports of women’s rights being violated. Caldicott also stated that many obstacles have remain unchanged. Again, an absolute truth. Caldicott Women pointed out that females are undervalued. They work more and earn less.

“They face multiple forms of violence at home and at public spaces. Our key objective for this years’ campaign is threefold – firstly is to support the larger global cause to fight gender inequality, tackling gender norms involving women and girls and ensuring they have full participation in society, secondly to reiterate the UKs commitment to global issues around gender and equality. Thirdly to showcase our commitment to addressing global gender- based issues,” added Caldicott.

She further added that the British Council wants to make 2020 count for women and girls everywhere. The British Council attempts to change attitudes, something that is very difficult to change. There needs to be a change in both men and even women- how they think when it comes to human rights. If we can change attitudes then behavior will also change.

“We, the British council wish to stand up against violence directed at women and girls. We want to create heroines and role models who can inspire women to lead. We want to give women a voice. It is all about female power. I remember the work we did with WOW in 2017. WOW is a festival – Women of the World, that celebrates the achievements of women and girls and looks at the barriers they face. It was launched in 2010. It has been repeated every year in London. We have a Sri Lankan delegate there this year,” pointed out Caldicott.

The British Council brought WOW to Colombo in December 2017 and hope to bring it again in the future.

“We, the British Council have given out grants to a number of individuals and organizations who had really good ideas about how to address issues faced by women. Sometime ago we gave a grant to popular singer Ashanthi De Alwis to develop a music video that talked about the problem of suicide amongst young women which she launched on Sri Lankan Suicide Prevention day. More recently we gave her a grant to create another music video highlighting the issues on violence against women,” added Caldicott.

She also commented on the project – ‘Creating Heroines’. A grant was given to Irushi Tennekoon, a children’s picture book illustrator and animator. She is making animation of up to six Sri Lankan women who she considers to be role models. The first three are going to be launched on March 14 & 15, at the Lionel Wendt. The British Council also aims to support the Colombo Women’s International Film Festival between March 15 -22. Two British Films will be brought down which talk about the empowerment of girls.

“Because of the first Colombo Women’s International Film Festival, we got so inspired by the work of Anomaa Rajakaruna who instigated the festival, that we gave a grant to her to help identify five up and coming young female film makers, and to provide them with the funds, to make their first films. Five young women were chosen and three of those films are now ready and they will be shown both at the British Council and at the Film Festival, one film addressing the ragging issue at Universities,” said Caldicott.

Samitha Sugathimala who represented Foundation for Innovative Social Development (FISD) said that the work they have done with the British Council is indeed commendable. She stated that the completion of this publication is an achievement for all women and is a significant milestone in Sri Lanka when it comes to female empowerment.

“The project always had an objective. It was to recognize 200 women and 100 girls’ leaders who had contributed towards the well- being of their communities and changing the lives of women and girls in those communities. This goal was to give a strong voice to not only those women who were involved, but those whose lives were impacted by the program as well. FISD has reached out to thousands of women and built up the image and leadership of thousands of women in so many districts. The project created a platform for women and girls to share their experiences with each other as leaders,” said Sugathimala.

Through this project we gain an understanding of the strengths of women and how they shape the future of women and girls in their communities. Through the project, women identified the role they play in their communities, the responsibilities that come with it and the set of skills they have. The project certainly was fruitful.

“The project had its challenges and expectations, because the women themselves did not understand their potential as leaders and the role they can play in their localities and their inherent capabilities. They did not understand the difference they could make. We understood it would not be easy and it was not. However, it offered fresh perspectives. It was a process of helping them understand the difference they could make. We gave them the platform for them to come together and have a discourse,” explained Sugathimala.

The publication showcases 60 community-based women and girls with leadership profiles who were selected and interviewed, capturing their stories to provide a strong impetus for other women and girls in the community to be motivated to replicate these achievements.

“This publication will be for public usage of course, with many academic institutions, libraries and organizations agreeing to use them as a learning document. So, these are stories that need to be heard. This publication also allows the women to reflect on what they have achieved through this publication, and how much they have contributed and the challenges they have gone through. They realize their capacities, their strengths and their contributions. It builds up their self-esteem being recognized as role models,” said Sugathimala.

There of course so many stories that are unheard of and that could not be shared but Sugathimala said there will always be other platforms for these stories to be given attention to. She also added that it takes a lot of courage for these women to come out with their stories, because they might perceive it as a risk.

“Finally, I wish to say that the commitment of the British Council has really been amazing. This partnership with the British Council has been an amazing opportunity for us to grow as individuals and as an organization. This is both for youth and women,” said Sugathimala. 

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