The project ‘Empowering Communities to address VAWG’ was conceived and co-created with our main collaborator civil society organisation Foundation for Innovative Social Development (FISD) and their implementing partners Jaffna Social Action Center (JSAC), Janathakshan, and Hashtag Generation. The project has run for 21 months in Batticaloa, Hambanthota, Jaffna, and Moneragala. We wanted to ensure women and girls have the skills, confidence, and networks to contribute and benefit economically, socially, and politically – and being free from the fear of violence is an important first step.
The programme used British Council’s Active Citizens methodology to help identify issues within communities and to challenge deep-rooted attitudes and beliefs. The interventions through community action projects and social media campaigns were designed to engage women, youth, and men as allies. The project also aimed to strengthen the system with support services and service providers.
The project also engaged men and boys in the process of positive change. Through awareness sessions, dialogues, and community projects there has been direct involvement of 150 men, 150 women, 300 youth, and 200 service providers across four districts. The project recognised 200 women and girls as community leaders initiating interventions and solutions to address VAWG. 40 community projects have been implemented to raise awareness, addressing issues including domestic violence, violence related to alcoholism and drug abuse, child/forced marriages, online violence of youth (girls), and female economic empowerment.
As an extension to this project initiative, the second phase was launched under the title of ‘A Future Without Violence’ in January 2021. The second phase was built on the lessons learned and identified knowledge gaps about the prevalence of VAWG in selected communities.
Spanning eight months, ‘ A Future Without Violence’ succeeded in building the capacities of youth by promoting gender-responsive online communications, capturing key gender norms that drive gender-based violence in target villages in Hambantota, Anuradhapura Monaragala and Jaffna and challenging these norms through awareness materials disseminated online and across the districts.
To capture the knowledge, attitudes, and levels of engagement of youth in connection to cyber-sexual violence in Sri Lanka, a spot survey was carried out among approximately 100 youth. The survey results indicate an overwhelming lack of digital literacy among rural youth and the need for more awareness-raising on the dangers of cyber violence and steps that can be taken to stay safe online.
We have worked through our partners closely with youth on fifteen Social Action Projects that focused on skills related to digital storytelling to advocate for positive gender norms to change regressive narratives related to gender-based violence. These Social Action Projects included several innovative initiatives done by the youth, from a rap song on cyber sexual violence to Facebook memes that sought to use comedy to challenge harmful gender norms. Future Without Violence also sought to promote better GBV-related service in target districts through the dissemination of service coordination posters and booklets with information on helplines and tips on responding to an incident of gender-based violence in a manner that is gender-sensitive.
Overall, the project succeeded in improving communications to address harmful gender norms that justify gender-based violence and is set to have a visible impact on these communities.