A new resolve to promote social integration


Amila, along with other participants of the Women's Empowerment for Social Integration initiative

Prior to 2013, Amila Nilangani, from Moneragala, had little understanding of what ‘social integration’ meant. In fact, she says, “I didn’t even know there was such a concept.” Adding to this were the negative perceptions she had about those of the Tamil community, shaped by years of conflict.  

Highlights

  • The Women's Empowerment for Social Integration initiative brings together 30 women from the districts of Kilinochchi and Moneragala, through a series of five workshops and monthly meetings at district level that focuses on leadership development, social integration, language rights, gender equality and advocacy, to enhance their knowledge on these key social concerns, strengthen their leadership skills, and networks, thereby empowering them to initiate activities in their communities that promote social integration.
  • Through the use of small grants provided as part of the overall initiative, the two groups of women leaders are encouraged to undertake three community level activities during the course of 2014, which aim to promote social integration and are designed, planned and implemented through their own leadership. The first of these activities were undertaken in their respective districts during Social Integration Week in July.

But, all this changed for Amila when she was selected as one of the participants of the first ever Women’s Empowerment for Social Integration initiative, implemented by the Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration, under the UNDP supported Strengthening Enforcement of Law, Access to Justice and Social Integration (SELAJSI) Programme.

The initiative brings together 30 women from the districts of Kilinochchi and Moneragala, through a series of five workshops and monthly meetings at district level that focuses on leadership development, social integration, language rights, gender equality and advocacy, to enhance their knowledge on these key social concerns, strengthen their leadership skills, and networks, thereby empowering them to initiate activities in their communities that promote social integration. Walking into the very first workshop in Thulhiriya in March 2014 not only did Amila find herself with a group of Tamil women from Kilinochchi, but she was surprised when she learnt they had to share rooms.

“I didn’t know a word of Tamil. It was difficult to communicate with them, even to make a cup of tea. We had to use sign language,” Amila laughs.

Having realized the need to learn Tamil, it was only a matter of months till Amila and other women leaders from Moneragala soon found themselves picking up bits and pieces of Tamil, partly with the help of their new friends from Kilinochchi and also through the material shared during the workshops. Committed to the task, Amila set herself a target – to learn 350 Tamil words in the first few months.

Through the use of small grants provided as part of the overall initiative, the two groups of women leaders are encouraged to undertake three community level activities during the course of 2014, which aim to promote social integration and are designed, planned and implemented through their own leadership. The first of these activities were undertaken in their respective districts during Social Integration Week in July. In Kilinochchi, the women leaders organized a street drama, to raise awareness on community level issues which impede upon social integration and gender empowerment. In Moneragala, the activities were two fold; a street drama that sought to raise awareness on underage marriages, and a training for women engaged in self-employment on business and financial management. The two activities were picked to address some of the most pressing concerns in the district, including underage marriages, and the high levels of poverty and low levels of income generation among women.  

Yet, these activities were significant, says Amila. Working with the women’s societies in the district in the past, Amila had organized trainings of this nature for women. But, these past trainings engaged mainly members of the Sinhalese communities, and hardly any Tamils or Muslims.

 “We didn’t have much of a chance to involve those of other communities. We didn’t know their language, so we couldn’t communicate properly,” explains Amila. She goes on to add, “But, from what we learnt through this programme, we were able to select our participants in a better way, reaching out to those from different communities in our district. We were able to give opportunities for more people.” Amila beams as she says that the activities organized by them during Social Integration Week engaged and reached Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims alike.

Amila has just completed the fourth training workshop under the Women’s Empowerment for Social Integration initiative. The workshop focused on advocacy and on conducting campaigns on key social concerns.

The overall initiative is set to end in December this year. Yet, Amila believes that wouldn’t be the case. Moving forward, she is determined that the participants of the initiative work together to share the knowledge gained with the broader communities, promoting social integration, dispelling negative perceptions and instilling respect, trust and mutual understanding between the diverse groups of people.

As the workshop stops for lunch, and before Amila hurries to join her friends from Moneragala and Kilinochchi for a mix of Sinhalese and Tamil food, she shares with us the ambitious target she has now set for herself. Going strong on her 350 word Tamil vocabulary, Amila says, proudly, “I want to learn 750 Tamil words by the time this programme ends.”