With a hope for peace in post-war Sri Lanka, the N-Peace Network in partnership with Search for Common Ground in Sri Lanka has initiated an advocacy campaign on Women, Peace & Security, in line with this year's theme of International Women's Day (IWD) ‘Connecting girls, Inspiring Futures'.
The radio campaign on ‘Women in solidarity for Peace' produced by the N-Peace Network is an effort to make the voices of women from war-affected areas of Sri Lanka to be heard across the country on what they think about peace at a personal and community level.
“As ‘peace' has different effects on different people, communities and segments of society, in Sri Lanka women's opinion on peace, especially from all ethnic groups, will be of great importance to give validity to their needs in the absence of war,” said active N-Peace Network member, Ayodhya Krishani Amarajeewa, who is engaged in the radio campaign.
“The N-Peace radio campaign aims to give voice to these opinions, needs, and thoughts of Sri Lankan women,” She continued.
Ms Amarajeewa, was also recently trained on the ‘women waging peace' curriculum (Inclusive Security) becoming a trainer within the first N-Peace Regional Pool of Trainers.
Celebrating International Women's Day
In numerous different activities organized for the IWD on March 8th in Sri Lanka, women shared their stories. Such as in Northern Sri Lanka, where the Women Rural Development Officers and Viluthu (Human development organization) organized IWD activities in the Jaffna town.
Also, for the first time after three decades of war, in the northern town of Mulative, IWD was celebrated with collective efforts of the Mulative Women's Federation, Mothers and Daughters of Lanka and other women's organizations.
Participating in these rare moments, N-Peace Network members from Sri Lanka were able to find women who are truly transforming their communities and society with much courage and strength to tell their stories.
It was later underscored by the N-peace Network members present, that the post-war atmosphere has created a space for women across Sri Lanka to interact and share their stories, knowing that the future for all would be better than it has been for the past three decades.
“None of the women who participated in the first ever IWD celebrations held in Mulative town, wished for another war or violence, but they shared the need to address issues related to their everyday security and safety, to understand each other better at a personal and community level as women in order to have sustainable peace,” Ms. Amarajeewa comment.
What does the end of war really mean?
It was also emphasized that women in these areas collectively feel secure for there are no more shelling, no more bombs and no more continuous gunfire, yet the loneliness in their lives with the eternal absence of their loved ones and at times their inability to express their grievances with others has created a ‘numbness' in life.
“End of a war is not an end of all ills in a society. It is a rather continuation of the old ones in a greater magnitude and emerging new problems. A war with guns may have ended, but the wars in the personal lives of these women in conflict-affected areas have not come to an end,” Ms. Amarajeewa said.
During the IWD celebrations, as a part of the N-Peace radio campaign, the women from Jaffna and Mulative towns shared their stories in the aftermath of a war and their thoughts on current peaceful atmosphere in the country.
They told stories of continuous struggle for survival, not only as women, but as families, heads of households, single mothers, or as young women who are looking for better careers, and trying to keep their from communities slipping into another crisis.
In her work to capture stories of women affected by war, Ms. Amarajeewa observed the deep suffering experienced and the resilience of the women rebuilding their lives. Such as when interviewing a woman from Jaffna:
“Radha's story is a story of tears, but with some hope for a better future for her children. She is a mother of two who lives in Jaffna. She shared a story of tears for she has lost eight members of her family to this war. Some disappeared; some were trapped in conflict zones when there were outbreaks of war.
Since the final days of war, her husband is not to be found. She cares for her two children with little support from her community. Through tears she said:
‘Now my only happiness is my children. What matters is that now my children can study and can at least live without the fear of shelling and bombing.'
When Radha shed her tears (and her pain with it), Manumadhi revealed her personal belief of peace. She firmly believes that peace, and for that matter strength, needs to be found within. During the times of war and peace, she remained strong in her hometown Jaffna. She was able to maintain good relations with the military during the times of war and even now. She is a trishaw driver in Jaffna and also has a small business to support her family.”
The ‘Women in solidarity for Peace' initiative is giving a voice to many women looking to work towards a future with sustainable peace free of violence.
In Mulative, Muslim and Tamil women were working together to celebrate the IWD and also to find collective solutions to the problems that the women and girls in Mulative encounter. When they shared their stories, it was noted they were less person the likes of Radha's, and they very importantly wanted to support their fellow women, including young women, who are experiencing domestic violence or the girls who are faced with gender based violence at home, on the road or on their way to school.
“For me, these women's single stories have collectively created a bigger picture of what a protracted war and violent conflict can do to a people, a community and a society. Their courage and hope for peace – peace that is sustainable and just – truly brought a sense of hope,” Ms. Amarajeewa said.
The N-Peace radio campaign will continue to collect women's stories and make them heard.