Among the issues faced by women and girls in Sri Lanka are a high rate of domestic violence, sexual harassment, early marriage, early pregnancy and unemployment. This is especially true in marginalized communities that are below the poverty line, and with contributory problems such as drug and alcohol abuse. 

British Council Sri Lanka wanted to address the issue of gender-based violence through a community approach. And so the project 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 as well as youth networks such as Hashtag Generation. 

To date, the project has run for 18 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 project had three phases – capacity building, active engagement in communities and building connections for further intervention. The programme used our Active Citizens delivery model to help identify issues within communities and to challenge deeply held 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. 

Linking to a national government objective was key in our view. This project contributes to achieving the objectives of the National Plan of Action (NPA), to address Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) of the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs and the Dry Zone Development. It has existed since 2016 and many organisations have contributed to the implementation process. We believe it is a collective responsibility to make sure that resources and capacities are developed to make the plan a reality. 

Speaking at the national symposium on addressing VAWG, Mrs. Dharshana Senanayake, Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Affairs and Dry Zone Development said, “We as the policymakers at the national level, too have an important role to play. We connect the communities and the national policy together with our national, district, divisional and the community systems. I see that all these components have been taken into consideration in this project. I hope the learnings from this project will contribute further in the implementation of the National Action Plan and motivate and inspire others who would like to take a similar approach in empowering communities to address violence against women and girls”.

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.

Gill Caldicott, Country Director British Council Sri Lanka, confirmed “We are committed to working with Sri Lankan society, its people and its government to foster relations between our two countries. Under social cohesion, nothing is closer to my heart than the issue of gender discrimination and especially the problem of violence against women and girls”.