The majority of women in the villages in which Suriya works in, are engaged in the informal economy and have no labour rights or protection. They work as agriculture labourers, run small home gardens, make food for sale, sew, fish, pound rice into flour, collect firewood, collect honey, have small poultry farms or a few livestock. Our strategy in this programme is two fold.
- Building women’s entrepreneurship and sustainable livelihoods
- Working on women labour rights in the care and informal economy
The women who receive grants from Suriya for livelihood support are often women headed households who have been marginalised in their homes and communities. They have faced many social and cultural challenges in accessing development assistance. Some of the women have been living through years of domestic violence.
Women’s independent income
In terms of sustainable income support, 60% women we have supported have become economically stable. Women have been involved in poultry rearing, small business, goat rearing, home gardening, cow rearing, handicraft business (Palmyrah), mat weaving and sewing. In the villages where we work, women found that sharing their experiences with one another helped them to keep motivated as well as to learn other methods of carrying out their livelihood activity. We have facilitated exposure visits to other villages involved in women’s entrepreneurship in order to learn about production processes.
The Chamber of Commerce conducts training on marketing and business planning, and women have begun a process to register their products at the district level. Registration means women are able to sell their produce more effectively and obtain more orders and registration provides them with a guarantee of quality from the government veterinary surgeons.
We have strengthen many other women’s groups organising for their livelihood by facilitating their participation at International trade fairs and exhibitions.
We use research and consultations with key stakeholders to working on the gap in information on women in the informal economy and care economy and to demand more rights for women in this sector. Suriya produced a Policy Brief on women’s work “My Work! My Time! My Value?” which we have been using to create a discourse around the need for recognising women’s work and need for change in legislation to provide rights for men and women in the informal economy.
Suriya has produced 2 short documentary films as a continuation of our work in pushing for a rights-based focus on women’s livelihoods programs being implemented in the district. These films call for workers’ rights for women working in the informal economy, and highlight the importance of counting the economic contribution of women to the care economy. They have been shown at the International Trade Fairs in Batticaloa and at International Women’s Day events. These short documentary films are available on loan to the public.
Suriya organises women into collectives and provide support and awareness on gender issues and rights to empower women to challenge discriminatory socio-cultural practices from their homes to their communities. We particularly support extremely marginalised women in their communities and we work with community leaders and community power structures to enable positive change.
Suriya has formed small groups of women in rural areas who undergo a process of emotional support and empowerment. These groups then function independently to support one another.
Shakti Group – This group currently has 15 members who meet monthly and who have experienced violence and other crises in the family. They have initiated savings schemes and provide loans to other members of the group to carry out self-employment activities. Most of these women are now able to care for their families and children with the support of a Suriya officer who visits regularly and guides them to resolve issues that arise.
Puthiya Paathai Nokki (PPN) Group – This group works with women and young girls who have been affected by war and violence and who need more support emotionally. A space is provided for the members to share their feelings and express their ideas through a process of discussion and creative expression. Suriya has supported members to take legal action as well as make representations at various government commissions such as the Presidential Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation. We have also supported them emotionally with an empowerment process of capacity building workshops, individual meetings, common sharing meetings, and creative work such as art and drama.
The Women’s Coalition for Disaster Management was set up one week after the Indian Ocean Tsunami on 2nd of January 2005. Since then the network which has 22 organisations working for women’s rights has been a strong advocacy voice in the district. Through the WCDM, Suriya has systematically collected evidence on the impact of war and displacement on women in Batticaloa. This has been done as a collective action with other members of the WCDM network. We document the economic and social impact on women as well as provide an analysis of the government and non-governmental programs currently being implemented in the district for women’s empowerment.
The WCDM Network drafted the District Action Plan for Gender and Protection for the Government Agent in Batticaloa and we have been instrumental in influencing gender work overall in the district. WCDM issued a statement to all parties standing for Provincial Council Elections in 2012 on the gender issues they should consider if they are elected and this was widely published in the media.
WCDM organized a district wide campaign to raise awareness on violence against women during the 16 Days of Activism in 2012. The campaign theme “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World – Let us Grow a Violence Free Society” included the planting of 500 trees in public places as well as family homes.
In 2013 due to several brutal rapes and murders in the North and East the women’s organisation-networks decided to have a joint 8 day campaign(Journey Towards Justice) in 7 districts on the theme of “End to sexual violence – in search of justice”. Women from each district travelled to the events organised in the other districts, drafted a common statement with data and a common set of demands. The campaign started in Akkaraipattu on the 2nd of December and ended on the 9th of December in Jaffna in front of the courts where one of cases of rape and murder was being heard.
Each March Suriya celebrates International Women’s Day collaboratively with many other women’s organisations working for women’s rights in the district. Our activities further strengthen the solidarity and collective action among women’s groups beyond organisational boundaries.
We have been a very active in a district level network responding to the growing concerns of the rights of migrant women. Our aim is to influence government support and responses to migrant women regarding the issues of poverty and safe migration. Suriya plans to initiate discussions with the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment on the obstacles women and their families have faced when making complaints at the conciliation division which deals with problems of migrant women in their work spaces and homes.We have also produced a film on Migrant Workers Rights for advocacy.
Suriya has over the years used different cultural mediums to raise awareness and create a discourse on women’s rights issues. Using creative spaces and cultural mediums have provided us with the opportunity to discuss very sensitive issues even throughout the years of war. Suriya was one of the first women’s groups in the East to have an all-women theatre group performing on the streets and in other public spaces using forum theatre and street theatre techniques. Our members use songs, poetry, fiction writing, script writing, posters and banners to complement their Tamil street theatre and drama productions.
We have invested in a few key members of our Cultural Group to take on a leadership role within the group as it is often not possible to maintain the same members for the long term. Our core members have worked with cultural groups in India and are well trained and conceptually strong. They are often called upon to perform in public spaces by government officials, NGO’s, women’s groups and at local exhibits. Performances are often followed by lively discussing on women’s rights with te public.