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Our 1325 rural workshops in Sri Lanka

13 October 2005
Rosemary has been asking me about our rural workshops, so I thought I would share this slightly more detailed account with you of how they work. When we are ready to have a workshop in a certain district, we contact a local women’s organization in that region who we know has multiple connections with other NGOs etc. in the locality. We request their participation explaining briefly to them the content of the workshop. Somebody rents a local hall if none of them have conference facilities that are conveniently available.  In consultation with our chosen local women’s organization, we will invite around 50 women from all walks of life in that area, school principals, heads of NGOs,women police officers, women who hold leading positions in the region. We mix rural and urban – in short all kinds of different livelihoods in one workshop – married, single, young and retired.

I have people working with me who have come up with a formula for conducting the workshop, but I like to do all the facilitating myself. We do have plenary sessions but normally our workshops are participatory. The important thing is to get the women into groups to talk and share what they think about UN Resolution 1325 and, in particular, what they see as the challenges and opportunities of implementing it in their respective areas. And I must say, to date all of the workshops have been very successful. In general, women enjoy these workshops because they learn something, but also because they share the learning process with each other. This makes them very happy.

It is not difficult in the first place to persuade them of 1325’s relevance to their lives. There are two overarching concerns which they all share - we speak to them about the security situation and what they can do, and the other opportunity that interests them is the chance to have access to holding political office in the peace talks etc. that are so important for all our futures. We want them to be proactive in demanding and securing their deserved place in such political processes, and we are building networks so that they get the strength and encouragement to contest elections. To prepare them, we ask them to undertake small tasks. We get them to read about and get up to date with current affairs. We help them to be competent.

They walk out of the workshop with confidence, as they come to know that they are not alone in this struggle. You might be surprised what a big difference that makes. Normally, we notice as well that they start working together more after we bring them through this process. After the Tsunami struck, it was quite noticeable that the women who had been in the workshops of those districts were quick to demand an input in the decision-making for post Tsunami reconstruction. And this is the acid test.

They do ask questions about the failure of the UN to bring peace to the world.  We explain the UN system and how the processes by which the Resolution becomes law in our country and we explain that we have to push for its implementation. As Sri Lanka votes for all these measures – that gives us the opportunity. We regularly use the guide lines that Sanam Anderlini prepared for us for disseminating 1325.

Some times we get media interest, but normally not at all. Sometimes the men in the locality will make some pejorative comments about what we are up to. And we deal with it by explaining to them what we are trying to do. At times, it takes time to get through to them. But sooner or later we manage because we know we are doing the right thing. As for religious institutes  - they have been very cooperative. They participate indeed, whenever possible.

Rosemary asked me what an earth we did with a workshop of 2,000 women? But of course – this was not a workshop. This was our demonstration in the streets of the capital. We gathered in a big park in Colombo. A team of us worked together on this – so it was easy. And next – we’re going to do workshops for the politicians! You might like to know more about that some time…

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