Blog 4 (Fall 2016) -Gender Equality In Sri Lanka, by Roxana Rosala

Our topic this week was women and gender. After not knowing what to write about for a long time, I ended up finding some organizations that work with communities in Sri Lanka in order to promote gender equality.

First, I’d like to give a short overview of Sri Lanka. The country’s official name is the “Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka” with its capital being Colombo. The major religions in Sri Lanka are Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. I thought it was important to give an overview of the belief systems in Sri Lanka, since they oftentimes influence the way that people treat each other. Sri Lanka gained its independence in 1948 after over 150 years of British rule. Following the British occupations, a civil war that would last 25 years broke out in 1983. The Indian Tamil and Sri Lankan Sinhalese fought each other bitterly and scarred the country as a result.

Next, I’d like to take a look at the current ICT Policy of Sri Lanka. A recent survey showed that only 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s population is computer literate. Within those surveyed, only 3 percent could use e-mail and the Internet, and these users were predominantly urban-based and concentrated in the Greater Colombo area. Over twenty years of armed conflict, political and social instability, slow economic growth and resource constraints have impacted ICT penetration very negatively. The ICT policies that have been prepared over the last two decades in Sri Lanka, including the current policy, recognize the need to reduce urban-rural disparities but do not make an explicit reference to addressing gender issues.

Many people say that if there is inequality in a country, it can simply be fixed by educating the people. However, by all indicators, girls in Sri Lanka have equal access to education from primary to tertiary levels. The retention rates for girls at both the primary and junior secondary levels are actually higher than for boys and the gender gap in literacy levels is minimal. A reminder: a civil war took place in the 1980s and 1990s and resulted in 18% of students dropping out after their eighth year. Older women and those who dropped out of school tend to be marginalized in accessing ICTs. As there are a large number of people who do not have access to education and training to use digital technologies, programs and projects are being developed to reach these un-connected communities to provide them with the opportunity to benefit from ICTs.

The Nanasalas are Rural Knowledge Telecentres of Sri Lanka an aim to extend connectivity and access to rural areas. They are comprised of Rural Knowledge Centers, 25 e-Libraries, and Distance and e-Learning Centers, 26 of which are implemented under the e-Sri Lanka initiative, regulated by the government. The Nanasala program aims to “address current infrastructure deficiencies in rural areas.” The ultimate goal of this program is to establish multi-service community information centers which provide access to the Internet, e-mail, telephone, fax, and photocopy facilities. Recognizing the low computer literacy, computer training classes and other ICT services are also to be provided.

Another organization has been helping ICT communities for several years, is Sarvodaya.They have been operating telecentres at the district level with linkages to the information centers established in 12,000 of its villages. The program is also pilot testing a different model – Vishwa Gammana (the virtual village) – to integrate ICTs with the development of the rural community, and to identify socio-anthropological issues in relation to the adoption of ICTs in a rural context. The project team includes ‘gender specialists’ who interact with the project team members and the community. Gender issues have been identified through a baseline survey carried out in the village. The project recognizes inequitable gender relations and has provision for conducting gender sensitization programs, leadership training and capacity building for women.

Looking at Sarvodaya’s website, I found a link labeled “Sarvodaya Women’s Movement” (SWM). This movement was started in 1987 as an offshoot of the Sarvodaya Movement and has taken the lead in livelihood programs, empowerment and gender issues in Sri Lanka. The Vision of SWM is to provide women with opportunity and direction to assume their rightful place in society and realize their aspirations, hopes and strengths. Some activities undertaken up to now include: looking after the interests of migrant women and their families, family link-up programs, women’s political empowerment, leadership development programs, and nutrition promotion programs. It doesn’t really relate to any ICT goals, but seeing how Sarvodaya already does a lot of work in ICTs, maybe they can develop an app or something similar to that in order to help women learn even more effectively about ICTs.

Most of the information that I have presented thus far, is taken from the organizations’ respective websites, so I was very intrigued, when I found an article that basically reviews and critiques the work that the organizations have actually done in the field. The article found, that in its present form, this model may, in fact, increase the gender digital divide although the aim of the e-Sri Lanka program is to take “the dividends of ICTs to every village, every citizen….”

The aim of the Nanasala in turn, should not only be to provide ICTs to communities but also, and more importantly, to build the capacity of women and men to articulate their information needs and empower them to access and use information to enhance their capacities.

The model that Sarvodaya uses, should have built-in strategies and innovative programs to minimize gender inequalities. Such an approach requires a careful analysis of community dynamics and prevalent gender inequalities. The NGO community model (by Sarvodaya) outlined earlier, which takes gender into account in project design, too, is showing signs of women being marginalized. An example would be the inappropriate location of one facility, which has resulted in very few women using the service. It doesn’t specify the reason why the facility was so inaccessible, however it is clear that the lack of women attending the classes, puts men, who end up being the majority again, above the women who do make it to the facility. In another facility, which is in a better location, women’s usage is at par with men’s, leadership mostly remains with men, which is the exact opposite of the concept of “leading by example”.

It’s clear, that a lot can still be done to help women reach a standard ICT knowledge in Sri Lanka, but it’s also nice to see that there are efforts being made in order to take some steps into the right direction.

 

Sources:

  • Gurumurthy, Anita, et al. “Gender in the information Society: Emerging issues.” UNDP-APDIP, Elsevier. http://www. apdip. net/publications/ict4d/GenderIS. pdf (accessed July 15, 2009)(2006).
  • Harrigan, Patrick. “Establishment of Nanasalas.” Establishment of Nanasalas. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
  • News, BBC. “Sri Lanka Country Profile.” BBC News. N.p., 21 Sept. 2016. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
  • “Sarvodaya Women’s Movement.” Sarvodaya. N.p., 28 July 2016. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
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