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Reflections on a Five-Year Journey of Women’s Voice and Leadership in Sri Lanka

Colombo, April 16, 2024 — On March 18, The Asia Foundation held the event “Voice, Agency, and Empowerment: Reflections on a Five-Year Journey of Women’s Voice and Leadership” to mark the closing of the five-year Women’s Voice and Leadership project in Sri Lanka with support from Global Affairs Canada. The project was part of Canada’s Women’s Voice and Leadership Program, which is currently implemented in 30+ nations across the globe following principles in Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy. Working with over 60 women’s organizations around Sri Lanka, the project strengthened the capacity and activities of women’s rights organizations led by women. The overarching goal was to empower women and girls, advance the protection of their rights, and achieve gender equality.

The event featured the launch of a collection of knowledge products documenting strategies, approaches, results, and lessons learned throughout project implementation. There was also an exhibition with publications and photographs developed under the project.

Representatives joining the conference looking at exhibition.

The Women’s Voice and Leadership Sri Lanka project’s knowledge product display.

Several key individuals from the High Commission of Canada attended the event, including Eric Walsh, the High Commissioner of Canada to Sri Lanka, as chief guest; Linda Ehrichs, counselor (development) and head of cooperation; and Wipula Dahanayake, development officer. The event also brought together representatives of partner women’s rights organizations, diplomatic missions, donor agencies, UN agencies, and other international and local Non-Governmental Organizations working in Sri Lanka.

Diane Fernandez, the Foundation’s deputy country representative in Sri Lanka, delivered opening remarks, outlining details on the project and its outcomes. Eric Walsh also addressed attendees, emphasizing the project’s focus on bridging gaps in long-term funding and recognition of the vital role played by local women’s rights organizations. He noted that these organizations are crucial to advancing women’s rights, providing resources, supporting decision-making, and empowering women to exercise their rights effectively.

H.E. Eric Walsh and the Foundation's country representative in Sri Lanka, Diana Fernandez walk into the conference together.

Eric Walsh, High Commissioner of Canada to Sri Lanka, and Diana Fernandez, deputy country representative of The Asia Foundation in Sri Lanka.

Over the past five years, the project’s partner organizations have collectively impacted over 223,000 participants, helping advance gender equality and women’s empowerment in Sri Lanka through amplifying voices, enhancing leadership, and increasing economic resilience. The project’s partner organizations also addressed violence against women, all with the goal of fostering increased equality and meaningful participation for women in decision-making processes.

During the project, partner organizations contributed to various policies and frameworks, including the action plan of the National Policy on Gender Equality and Women Empowerment, adopted by Sri Lanka in March 2023. They also contributed to labor rights initiatives, the National Plan of Action addressing Sexual and Gender Based Violence, Muslim Marriage and Divorce Law Reforms, and advocated for amendments to gender equality laws and the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. Additionally, organizations actively participated in national governance processes and collaborated with government and civil society actors at district and divisional levels to combat gender-based violence.

The support extended to women’s rights organization partners through the project has resulted in enhanced initiatives and organizational sustainability:

“We were initially skeptical about working on a project on feminism. We were not sure how this concept could be applied to our local communities and our work. Yet, the various training workshops we took part on feminist approaches with the [Women’s Voice and Leadership] project, and the practical adaptation of this approach in our work, helped us realized that this approach, actually gave us an opportunity to look at our beneficiaries in a manner that is more inclusive. We feel more confident in using the word ‘feminist’ in our vocabulary, and in our documents.” (Priyangika Nishanthi, Manager, Training and Mobilization, Women Development Federation, Hambantota district- project partner)


“…we got a lot of capacity building training which we value a lot because we were able to strengthen ourselves and also to restructure the organizations. We revised our constitution. We also made a five- year strategy plan to plan our future. [The Women’s Voice and Leadership project’s] collaboration with IWARE is very significant in our journey with community activism.” (Aneesa Firthous, Executive Director of Islamic Women’s Association for Research and Education, Batticaloa district- project partner)

Four women wearing traditional clothing smile for a photo in front of an exhibition.

Representatives of women’s rights organization partners of the Women’s Voice and Leadership Sri Lanka project.

With the project’s conclusion, stakeholders will continue to build on the momentum and achievements, to ensure sustained progress in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. The Foundation’s director of gender and justice, Ramani Jayasundere, reflected on the project’s impact in strengthening the women’s movement in Sri Lanka and underscored The Asia Foundation’s long-term commitment to ongoing collaboration with local women’s rights organizations in the country.

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Related locations: Sri Lanka
Related programs: Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality

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Media contact

Eelynn Sim, Director, Strategy and Programs
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