Chandra Dissnayake is on a mission to change the status of women in her village. As the Chairperson of both the Moneragala District Women’s Federation and Siyambalanduwa Divisional Women’s Federation, she has taken the lead in initiating a project to promote women’s empowerment through e-governance.
While headline indicators show a high degree of gender parity in Sri Lanka, these statistics mask geographical differences. For example, women in Sri Lanka’s plantation and rural communities are often isolated, lacking information and a political voice. Their employment prospects are significantly weaker than men, particularly young women in the 20-24 age group, with many engaged in low-paid work in the plantations and in the garment sector, or in unpaid family work.
Struggling with the status quo
Combined with the limited capacity of civil society to champion their rights and hold local government to account, many women are missing out and are unable to claim and exercise their rights as citizens.
“Women in our village face many difficulties,” says Chandra. “They have to struggle with the household chores and maintain their status quo inside the family and within the social networks. In their struggle they are isolated within their families. Often women are affected by domestic violence and harassment from their family members.”
Most rural women have no or low access to any modern technology
Their isolation is compounded by their lack of access to modern technology. “Even if women want to engage in some income generating activity and to build up their family income, they lack technical skills and connectivity with the outside world. Most rural women have no or low access to any modern technology,” explains Chandra. “Naturally this makes them even more isolated.”
It is against this backdrop that the Moneragala District Women’s Federation jointly worked with the Dry Zone Development Institute and Plan International Sri Lanka to develop the three year project, funded by the European Commission. It aims to empower women to claim their rights and access services and opportunities available to them.
Connecting women to services
By forming community based groups, women will be connected and provided with information on accessing services to which they are entitled, reducing their isolation and supported to take greater control over their lives. The groups will also provide a support structure for women affected by violence – an all too common occurrence for many women in the area.
“There are lots of instances we found where women were victims of domestic violence and harassment. The prevalence is quite high where we live” says Chandra. “This makes them more isolated, which keeps them away from society.”
According to Chandra, the project is particularly necessary in an area like Moneragala, which is amongst the poorest districts in the country. By providing women with extra support and training, Chandra is confident the project will help unleash the incredible capacity and untapped potential of the women involved, bringing lasting benefits for not only the women, but their families and communities as well.
For more information about Plan International's work in Sri Lanka go to plan-international.org/sri-lanka.
For more information about the work of the European Commission's International Cooperation and Development Directorate General, please click here.