Empowering Needs to Reach the Village

By Ama H.Vanniarachchy | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 16 2021
Echo Empowering Needs to Reach the Village

By Ama H.Vanniarachchy 

“Women leading and building businesses on their own terms are helping all people create momentum and rise.” 

— Jane Finette 

The life of a woman is hard, and harder is the life of a rural woman. More than physical barriers it is the mindset of people, backward thinking, and cultural barriers that make the lives of women hard. Rural women, who live in more conservative cultures face hardships merely due to the fact of being women. Rural women have to bear children, do household chores, take care of their family and at the same time contribute to the family’s economy. Most of their work is unpaid and underappreciated. 

Adding to this is the low development in rural areas that makes the lives of these women harder. Rural women in any country play a vital role in economic development as their contributions to agriculture and small industries are high. Yet, their lives need to be improved further securing their physical and mental health. It is reported that approximately 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force of the world consists of women. They produce, process as well as prepare the food available, hence giving them the primary responsibility of food security. 

As we observed the International Day of Rural Women on 15 October, let us have a look at the lives of Sri Lanka’s rural women. This is a day to honour, remember, and at the same time pay tribute to the lives of rural women and girls who contribute immensely to build rural development, but sadly go unnoticed. In Sri Lanka, the situation is almost the same as it is in the world. Although rural women of Sri Lanka are stronger physicallyand their contribution to food production and rural economy is high, there are many factors that hold them back and make their lives harder. Although they are purposeful women, they are deprived of many rights such as healthcare, education, land rights, income, and bodily autonomy. 

They face abuse on a daily basis. These act as hindrances that prevent their personal development and financial empowerment. As the United Nations Women Executive Director said, “Rural women are the invisible mainstay of community resilience and sustainability.” Rural women are key contributors to agricultural production, food security, climate advocacy, enterprise, and citizenship. Sadly, the active contribution and the effort of rural women are not recognised and their full potentialis underutilised. When women are empowered, they, in turn, contribute to their family’s income and become leaders of active change in their communities. It is no gainsaying that if you build a woman, you build a community.

When a woman is empowered, her generation and her family are empowered. More than before, today, society is more vocal and concerned about the rights of women. There are many platforms that discuss women’s issues. There are women leaders that speak up for the rights of women. The Government has implemented many projects to uplift the lives of Sri Lanka’s rural women. Yet, at the grassroots level, things have not been addressed to the fullest. There are still thousands of rural women in Sri Lanka, who live lives far beyond our imagination. These rural women do not have access to at least basic healthcare, food, water, and education. These women have not yet seen the liberal world that we talk about while sitting in Colombo. These women are harassed, bullied, and tortured inside their homes, by their own people. 

These women do not understand that their bodies are theirs and it is their choice to make a decision about sexual health and pregnancy. Knowledge about sexual and reproductive health is not something many of these women have heard of. Therefore, it is vital to empower rural women if we are to move towards rural development and the development of the country as a whole. So how can we empower rural women? To empower rural women in Sri Lanka we need to eradicate poverty or work towards lessening poverty and discriminatory social norms, increase their decision-making power, increase health facilities, education, and skill training, and improve the infrastructure of rural areas. 

Education and skills training 

Investing in school education as well as skills and vocational training programmes empower rural women. This improves their social, business, economic and financial skills. Education also gives rural women knowledge about their physical and mental health, food, and nutrition. It is through education that these women learn about their power of decision making, help them break taboos, and understand the importance of bodily autonomy along with their sexual and pregnancy-related health. Having a better understanding of the world, society, and the human body helps rural women break discriminative cultural norms and barriers. This gives them the power to speak for themselves against violence, and abuse. It is important to give them the necessary skills and training in various industries, agriculture, and businesses. 

Although the potential and willpower of rural women are high, lack of access to training and knowledge about business, and industries hold them back. If equipment training, machine operating training, various handicrafts, agriculture, business management, and operation, and so on are given, rural women will have more opportunities to expand their financial and social development. One major barrier to empowering rural women is that they lack financial independence. If given the necessary guidance to be engaged in business, industries, and handicrafts, the economy and social development of rural women can be greatly uplifted. 

Healthcare 

Although healthcare is free in many rural areas in Sri Lanka, facilities and access remain poor. Women are in most cases vulnerable to every form of health problem. Poor knowledge about health puts their physical health in even more danger. Therefore, it is important to develop good healthcare facilities as well as easy access. Free access to sanitary napkins, knowledge about pregnancy and reproductive health, and knowledge about sexually transmitted diseases are vital to empowering rural women. Access to clean water and toilet facilities also need to be developed. There are many rural areas in Sri Lanka where women do not have access to clean water and where toilet facilities are not available. It is not only the public sector, but the private sector, charity organisations, and individuals also can invest in improving health care to empower rural women. 

Access to tools and facilities for business and industries 

Another major problem rural women face is that they lack access to tools and facilities to start and improve their businesses, industries, and agriculture. Therefore, providing rural women easy access to purchase tools, raw material, fertiliser, seeds, machines, and so on is important. Rural women who are in most cases dependent and being controlled by the males in the family and the society, lack the support and access to the material they need to start up their own businesses. Therefore, providing that access in rural areas, and guiding them on how to utilise them is definitely empowering them. 

Financial assistance 

Their income is in most cases either wasted or misused by their husbands. Rural women are rarely financially independent, although they contribute greatly to the family economy. Financial dependency controls many other aspects of their lives. This even prevents their social and mental development. As they are financially dependent, they hardly have the power to speak up for themselves when faced with injustice. Providing financial assistance is important because of this. Rural banks with special loan facilities, guiding them about how to save money and invest money, and teach them about finance management empower the rural women. This can also lead them to understand and take control over land and resource rights. 

Access to technology 

Improving technology facilities in rural areas is to empower the lives of all rural people, and to operate businesses and industries, electricity, internet, and mobile network coverage is crucial. It is especially important for women who are actively involved in gaining access to technology. Equipping them with modern technology and tools used in agriculture and other industries is unsuccessful if electricity is not provided in rural areas. For women and girls who do not work outside their homes but are involved in taking care of the household, access to technology is highly crucial. This helps them to protect themselves from violence and abuse and keep themselves safe. 

Contacting helplines and security services, asking for help from neighbours, and also access to health care through communication technology help keep their lives safe. Technology is also a learning tool. So, when taught and guided, rural women can use this learning tool to improve their knowledge and ask for guidance and support for their businesses, financial management and industries. Having access to the rest of the world will also broaden their horizons and connect them to the world of other women, empowering them further. Although rural development seems to be taking place in Sri Lanka, it needs to be a more practical base. 

In some rural areas, projects such as industrial and vocational training and agriculture training have commenced, along with building project offices, but the work has been halted. The rural community has gained no benefit from them. Therefore, such projects should be monitored and evaluated making sure that the rural community is actually benefits from them. There are still many rural villages where women and girls cannot afford to buy sanitary napkins, no electricity or water, no hospitals with facilities and enough medical assistance, and where girls are not continuing school education as schools are not functioning. 

There are reported incidents of teen pregnancies and unplanned pregnancies that ruin the lives of rural women. (Our attempts to contact the relevant Government officials to obtain statistical data about thiswere futile due to failed communication.) Sri Lanka needs to understand the definition of rural development and implement actual and practical ways of achieving it. 

Jogging tracks and pleasure gardens in rural areas have very little significance for rural development where there are no basic facilities such as hospitals with modern medical equipment, where there are no schools with students and teachers, and where women and girls cannot even afford to buy sanitary napkins. In such rural areas, what are people supposed to do with jogging tracks, when they don’t even have access to clean water and a toilet? “One of the most powerful things you can do is teach the importance of network to a young woman in your world.” 

—Jane Finette, 

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By Ama H.Vanniarachchy | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 16 2021

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