Chamathya Fernando from Sri Lanka has been passionate about girls’ rights for as long as she can remember. When a training opportunity arose to take part in the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts’ Stop the Violence campaign, she ran with it. Determined to share her knowledge with other Girl Guides, Chamathya, now Coordinator of the Stop The Violence Campaign, built a coalition by involving other organisations across Sri Lanka, to ensure the project had as big an impact as possible.
“Sexual harassment is everywhere: in public, at bus stations, on trains, walking down the street and in parks. It’s verbal as well as physical. Men try to expose their private parts to women in public. When buses are crammed, men try to touch their bodies. If you walk down the street, men make so many inappropriate comments.
“Girls are harassed almost on a daily basis in Sri Lanka, yet they are still reluctant to report issues that are so deep-rooted in society. I myself have faced such harassment and I want to put a stop to it.
“That’s why I attended the Activate Training for Voices Against Violence, a curriculum developed by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts and UN Women. As a National Trainer, my aim was to share what I’d learnt with other Girl Guides, so we could put a stop to violence.
“When we started, we didn’t have the financial resources. Then, after a year, we received funding from WAGGGS to conduct a National Training, where adult leaders from all 9 provinces and 25 districts were to be trained to roll out the curriculum. The challenge was the language barrier, as the curriculum needed to be translated into Tamal and Sinhalese, Sri Lanka’s two main languages. We overcame that barrier with support from WAGGGS.
“It got to the point where we had to explore other avenues of funding. So we decided to build a coalition of organisations that would support our cause of educating young people on this subject. We always prefer to ask how organisations can support us, rather than directly asking for funding. It’s a strategy that’s worked. UNICEF Sri Lanka supported us by funding our training, providing resource material and guiding us in monitoring and evaluation. We also worked together on their “End Violence Against Children” campaign.
“Some partners such as Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka and National Child Protection Authority volunteered to support us with facilitation. We had experts from these organisations conducting sessions on advocacy and child protection for the participants of the national training.
“We partnered with John Keells Foundation, the corporate social responsibility entity of the John Keells group – Sri Lanka’s largest conglomerate. It has a similar initiative called “Project WAVE” to combat gender-based violence and child abuse through awareness creation. Together, we were able to conduct awareness progammes for school children in rural areas supported under John Keells Foundation’s Village Adoption Project. As part of our partnership the entire initiative was funded by them which enabled us to go to rural areas, conduct workshops in underprivileged schools and provide awareness materials to participants.
“We also developed a partnership with the United Nations Foundation to launch Girl Up Clubs in Sri Lanka. We took a leading role as facilitators in setting up the clubs in Sri Lanka; we trained young leaders, while they covered all the costs of planning and organising the launch and training. As a result, we have 30 active Girl Up clubs in 6 provinces.
“We commemorated the International Day of the Girl in 2014 and 2016 in collaboration with the US Embassy – Sri Lanka where they provided us with resources including space, technology, material and refreshments as well as awarded certificate of participation to the participants. We conducted this programme for students at the American spaces in Colombo, Kandy and Jaffna in coordination with the Embassy.
“Building partnerships and coalitions can be done in small ways too. For example, we printed a book-mark commemorating International Day of the Girl this year, in collaboration with the British Council – Sri Lanka, we created the content and they designed and printed it.
“These partnerships mean we can deliver trainings further afield too and ensure our voice reaches a range of people.
“To date, we have 65 national trainers rolling out Voices Against Violence for girls of all age groups around the country in all 3 languages. We have gone out to many provinces to monitor our work and it’s clear these programmes are having a positive impact on girls and young women.“It just goes to show how the power of partnerships can help put a stop to violence.”