Women in Ampara take on the baton of leadership
K. Lalith Kulanayake was recently elected to the Lahugala Pradeshiya Sabha, becoming the first woman to serve in a local government authority in the Lahugala Division in Ampara District, a region where female political participation is among the lowest in the country. Determined to better serve her community, especially the women, Lalith attributes much of her success to the Women’s Leadership Development Project, implemented by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with the support of Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR). Lalith says the project honed her skills and knowledge and linked her with a network of visionary women, giving her confidence and enabling her to become a better leader.
- At the national level, fewer than 5% of MPs are women and the figures are even lower at the provincial and local levels. The Women’s Leadership Development Project was initiated in late 2009 to address the socio-cultural barriers faced by women in Ampara through empowerment and promoting leadership.
- A Networking and Knowledge-Sharing Session was held in Colombo, where the women leaders were invited to share their experiences.
Lalith is one of the 30 women leaders who are benefitting through this project. Although women have a key role to play in decision making, they are often under-represented in local decision making bodies. At the national level, fewer than 5% of MPs are women and the figures are even lower at the provincial and local levels. The Women’s Leadership Development Project was initiated in late 2009 to address the socio-cultural barriers faced by women in Ampara through empowerment and promoting leadership. Reaching out to 30 potential women leaders from different parts of society, the project has provided support for the women to strengthen their knowledge and skills in women’s rights, advocacy, project management, resource mobilization and communications in addition to seed-funding for initiating community-level activities. It also strove to build alliances among women leaders of different ethnicities and backgrounds, and to help the women interface with state and civic bodies, enabling them to sustain and multiply their leadership impact beyond their communities.
A vital segment of the project is the community networking sessions, which are held on a monthly basis in the villages. In these sessions, women have the opportunity to interact and establish contacts with service providers such as the police, development and welfare officers and as well as water board representatives. More recently, a Networking and Knowledge-Sharing Session was held in Colombo, where the women leaders were invited to share their experiences. Speaking during the occasion, they expressed confidence as they strove to take on more active roles in policy-making and governance with enhanced knowledge and understanding. They also spoke on how they overcame cultural barriers and other challenges by inviting their families to participate in the programmes as well. Coming from diverse ethnic, social and economic backgrounds, the women also explained that the training modules enabled them to strengthen group cohesion and better appreciate individual capacities while realizing the potential of joint action.
The session also provided an opportunity for the women leaders to engage in discussions with representatives from Government Ministries and other bodies, including from the Ministry of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development, Ministry of Social Services, the Ministry of Livestock, Rural Community Development and the Palmyrah Development Board. The discussions highlighted the opportunities available for women at the district level, in these various sectors as they strive to develop their own small-scale enterprises and community based initiatives with the seed-grants provided through the project.
In the final months of this project, UNDP hopes to facilitate mechanisms that will ensure sustainability of the project’s efforts. While the women together with their community based organizations plan to take up the advice of the Commissioner of Local Government and advocate for representation within the working committees of the local authority bodies, the Government Agent has also promised support to link them up with the District’s Women Development Officers, and together they can work to ensure the most important issues and the best recommendations are carried to the key decision making platforms at the national level with the relevant Ministries and the National Committee on Women (NCW).
Through the Women’s Leadership Development Project, the participants have found the strength and courage to take on the baton of leadership. As one participant summed up, “By participating in the programme we have gained confidence – we are able to go anywhere and speak to anyone without fear”.
“This networking and sharing event was part of activities of the N-PEACE Network (Engage for peace, equality, access, community and empowerment), a multi-country network across Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Timor Leste with the aim of working towards strengthening the role of women in building and restoring peace. The event was supported by UNDP’s Regional Crisis Prevention and Recovery Team in partnership with the Country Office in Sri Lanka.”