The WDC Community Development (CD) programme is an arrow that reaches out to all women in both urban and rural areas: building knowledge and awareness on rights based issues to help women mobilize, advocate, empower and bring justice to themselves and others. The CD program covers various topics, that relate to women and children, such as health, nutrition, rights education, gender equality, home management, prevention of drug addiction and abuse, prevention of VAW, economic empowerment etc. This main programme works through a holistic approach to ensure WDC’s outreach to all vulnerable, marginalised communities.
The Network of Women
The CD programme is very much linked with the Network of Women’s Organisation (NOW), which is a branch of WDC’s overall structure. The NOW was established as a result of WDC’s work spreading to other provinces of the country, mobilizing women to form groups. WDC encouraged those in areas that were particularly active to create women’s forums that could represent groups and support them at a wider level. WDC’s main strategies are to strengthen already existing women’s forums in creating awareness, to influence duty bearers, and build safety nets within civil society in order to take action against rights violations. We are committed to build on preventive and early intervention strategies in minimizing the effects of GBV by promoting knowledge and awareness on the cultural/religious norms that undermines roles of women and children, particularly girls.
Currently, the Network of Women’s organization affiliated to WDC consists of 15 regional women’s forums within 12 districts of the country (Kandy, Matale, Nuwara Eliya, Anuradhapura, Ampara, Batticaloa, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Vavuniya, Hambanthota, Matara, Monaragala) that continue their mission among the women, children and other vulnerable groups at the grassroots level. Unity and understanding has developed among these women throughout the year of working together, prompting action to safeguard the rights of women with disabilities and addressing issues of violations of these safeguards.
While we do not specifically work with the LGBTQI community we make sure they are included within our target groups and that our services reach to members of the LGBTQI community, free from discrimination. Since its very much part of the current gender policy we do hope to work more towards tackling issues faced by LGBTQ groups in the future, through a rights based approach.
Community Based Rehabilitation
“The Community-Based Rehabilitation Program was not originally planned when we started our work. But we came across women who were left destitute, because a child was disabled. No one would take responsibility for this disabled child.”- (Mrs. Pearl Stephen, WDC Founder)
Through the CD programme, which was an entry point into women’s issues faced within the community, the Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) disability programme was started to provide support to the many mothers of disabled children, who were unable to engage in any development activities, and were not receiving adequate support already. Initiated in 1990, the CBR program was the first of its kind in Sri Lanka offering professional support for children with special needs, even before any government program existed. CBR creates an environment where disabled people have equal rights and mothers of disabled children have the fullest access to resources. Social integration of differently abled people is the goal of this program. In order to achieve this, the programme aims to directly involve the community in the rehabilitation process and requires that they take a prominent role in the activities of the centre. Targeting the parents of these differently abled children, WDC provides services to ensure that they are involved in their child’s development and rehabilitation process which ensures prevention of further disabilities, identification of the deficiencies, intervention in the matter of crisis and provide rehabilitation as a learning process. The CBR also creates advocacy and awareness along with intervention among the community and its duty bearers and mobilizes communities in advocating towards disabled friendly reforms and policies. The programme has a broader aim of inclusion in both education and social systems, ensuring that differently abled children are provided with the same opportunities as other children. Our program operates at 9 different centres and special school units located within the central province.
The CBR intervenes at the very initial stage, from the wellbeing of the pregnant mother, to the newborn baby. Rehabilitation services are provided at an initial stage so as to simplify the transition into inclusive education of children at school going age, prevocational training/vocational training of youth aged 16 years and above and job placement of those who have successfully completed the rehabilitation process. At the grassroots level, field staff makes home visits to provide different types of services to people with disabilities.
Today the WDC provides rehabilitation services and support for over 500 disabled children as well as provide support and empower persons with disabilities to become active change makers contributing towards eliminating social stigma attached to disability. The services of the CBR centre include:
- Disability Identification through community health camps
- Awareness programmes (disability, rights, nutrition, hygiene etc.)
- Physical exercise and use of equipment
- Speech therapy, sign language
- Improve daily living skills
- Counseling clients, family members and community members
- Referrals to the CBR programme
- Assistance for referrals to different clinics and follow-ups
- Referrals to educational services
- Social integration
- Income generation opportunities
- Representation on behalf of the rights of differently abled persons
- Establish steering committee through parents’ societies
As part of the CBR programme, WDC started a low vision centre at WDC to train visibly impaired persons in mobility and reorganize their homes with bright colours in order for them to live independently. The services offered through the Low Vision Unit are:
- Communication skills – reading and writing, and assistive computer technology
- Counselling – to help themselves, their spouses, family members and friends to adjust to vision loss
- Independent living and personal management skills – home modification, home mechanics and repair, personal self-care, financial management, leisure activities, and using the telephone
- Independent movement and travel skills – orienting oneself in indoor and outdoor environments, moving about safely indoors, using transportation, and travelling safely outdoors with a long white cane or other devices
- Low vision evaluations and training with low vision devices – hand held magnifiers, special reading glasses, telescopes, high intensity lamps, and other optical and non-optical devices that can make the best use of remaining vision
- Vocational rehabilitation – vocational evaluation and training, job training, job modification and restructuring, job placement
Identified low vision cases are referred for medical recommendation to provide required optical devices from the hospital. In 2016, WDC has managed to provide necessary services to more than 50 individuals suffering from low vision. WDC currently has 7 low vision trainers that have been trained to intervene and help those with low vision. In addition the low vision trainers have trained 30 community mobilisers to identify individuals with low vision and refer them for intervention. The main aim is to expand these services to other rural areas of the country.
Ampitiya Vocational Training Centre & Sahana Hostel
As part of the CBR programme, the Ampitiya Vocational Training Centre (VTC) and the Sahana hostel provide extra facilities and opportunities for differently abled children and youth. The VTC and hostel are located just outside the Kandy town in a quiet and peaceful environment. The Children boarded at the hostel attend the Mahinda Vidyalaya special education school, which is conveniently situated at close proximity while the young adults receive personally adapted vocational training on various fields, such as carpentry, candle making, sewing, handloom and garment production, fabric painting, ekel brooms, cement flower pots, horticulture etc. Not only is the training a source of rehabilitation but is also a means in acquiring job prospects, economically empowering them to become more self-reliant, independent individuals. What is particularly significant about the Ampitiya VTC is that the trainers themselves are persons with various disabilities who have mastered their skills through the training received at the VTC. The high-quality items that are produced at the VTC are available for sale at the production unit in Ampitiya as well as the WDC ‘Sthree’ sales centre. Items are also occasionally sold at the Kandy City Centre (KCC) located in the heart of Kandy.
Gender Based Violence
Of the seventeen SDGS, goal number five is focused on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. On a global scale, women continue to face a lack of equal opportunities in various aspects of society. This is a frequently observed phenomenon in the employment sector in which wage disparities based on gender continued to exist. Furthermore, while working to guarantee the existence of equal opportunities for both males and females is a key component of goal number five, so is eliminating all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls. This is inclusive of intimate partner and/or domestic violence, sexual violence and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage. Many of the issues being addressed under this goal are applicable to the Sri Lankan context and in particular to the work being carried out by WDC.
Although women in Sri Lanka account for more than half the population (51.8%), they only account for 35.1% of the economically active labour force while men continue to make up the majority, accounting for 64.9% of the economically active labour force. The UNDP has ranked Sri Lanka as 75th under the Gender Inequality Index (GII), which measures inequality between men and women within three particular areas: reproductive health, empowerment (education & political participation) and labour market participation. While women do play a significant role in the plantation sector, textile industry and migrant labour force, they simultaneously continue to face high levels of gender based violence (GBV) and/or various forms of Violence Against Women (VAW).
The work being carried out by WDC aligns with the issues being focused on under goal number five and the country’s National Action Plan as it is continuously looking for ways to integrate women into the employment sector but simultaneously recognizes the triple burden facing women who often have to balance multiple roles within the public, private and household arenas. Thus, it constantly attempts to work from holistic perspective where the training and empowerment process is often inclusive of family members. This allows the woman to be supported by the very same community that she is constantly working to support and ensures a balance in roles and responsibilities. Furthermore, as WDC works with its partners to integrate women into non-traditional employment sectors, such as hospitality and tourism, it strives to ensure that the safety and security of female employees is upheld. In doing so, it hopes to secure employment for women in one of the fastest growing industries in Sri Lanka while simultaneously challenging cultural stigmas associated with women working in the particular sector.
“Rape is something you’ll never forget. It’s a severe trauma, but still, I firmly believe that no matter what the crisis, however severe, it is possible to come back to normalcy, given the right environment. That’s what we are trying to do.” – Pearl Stephen, WDC founder
The Crisis Intervention Centre (CI) of WDC is one of the largest establishments for crisis intervention and was also the first shelter located in Sri Lanka. The centre provides many facilities that enable a safe environment for women and girls to recover from violence and abuse with a great amount of support and care. It provides a home for survivors of many different forms of violence (i.e. physical, mental and sexual) thus since its inception, the priorities have been safety, security and ensuring empowerment of all women and girls at all levels. The activities at the centre encourage these women and girls to participate in the community and public spheres ensuring social inclusion and integration. The ultimate goal is to motivate these women and girls to reach a state of self-actualization and empowerment.
In order to achieve this, the women and girls contribute towards the daily activities of the Centre. They work together in the kitchen, in the gardens, tending to the farm animals, and doing other daily chores. They are made to feel part of a family, part of a community. They also receive skills training, in areas such as housekeeping and cookery, handloom weaving, sewing and handicrafts, home gardening, animal husbandry, shop work, fabric painting and other vocational skills.
“I came here five years ago and I was very afraid because I didn’t know what to expect. But with all the support and love and affection of the staff, it has made a big difference in my life. I feel that mentally I have returned to normal; and I am much happier now” – (Client, Haragama Crisis Centre)
The WDC’s initial priority is to provide shelter and security; and then help women and girls gain self-confidence and self-esteem. The Centre also provides clients with:
- Skills development training
• Job placements
• Occupational therapy
• Support for the continuation of education
• Developing good habits, healthy relationships and self-discipline
• Awareness raising programs on rights education, health care, nutrition, HIV Aids, women’s diseases
• Legal aid
• Clinical (medical) facilities
• Weaving, sewing, cookery, housekeeping
• Animal husbandry and home gardening
• Coordination with judiciary, police, probation and child care, UNICEF and other relevant organizations
Social Enterprise – ‘Sthree’
Nine years ago, WDC started the social enterprise called ‘Sthree’. This means both ‘woman’ in Sinhala and Tamil languages. This women’s initiative aims to provide a market for Sri Lankan women and differently-abled entrepreneurs to sell their hand-made products. Financial economic empowerment can also empower the entrepreneurs in their home, community and political spheres.
The merchandise displayed at Sthree come from all over Sri Lanka, although the products from local Kandy-area entrepreneurs make up about half of the merchandise. There are brightly coloured handloom sarees from Batticaloa and Kalmunai, handloom home décor items from Welimada, stunning silver jewellery from Galle, tasty chutneys and jams from Kurunegala, traditional watti trays and rice containers from Mahiyanganaya, recycled paper products from Hanguranketha, colourful hand woven Palmyrah purses, baskets from Kilinochchi (an area that was greatly affected by the civil war), eco-friendly purses and handbags from Ampitiya, stylish batik wraparound skirts, striking collage artwork, fashionable silk scarf’s and shawls created by a talented woman residing in Kandy and many more innovative products. There is beautiful wooden furniture handcrafted by persons with disabilities at WDC’s Vocational Training Centre in Ampitiya. Sthree is also looking to promote jewellery-making women producers in Matara and in November 2016, Sthree had an exhibition and sale in Sweden. The shop is thus expanding its market to include international customers along with its local customer base.
Sthree mostly operates as a not-for-profit enterprise, with it taking only a small percentage of the sale price on sold merchandise to contribute towards the operating costs of the shop. Sthree’s goal is to eventually become a self-sustainable entity expanding and contributing towards the other programmes of the WDC. The store is located at No. 327, Peradeniya Road, Kandy.
Legal services & Family counseling
Women’s Development Centre supports the victims of violence with:
- Legal Awareness
- Legal Counselling
- Legal Aid
WDC is armed with skilled lawyers who are ready to help on various legal issues. Our lawyers will provide you with the best options available for your legal issues. Therefore, if you are facing similar problems you can visit WDC to get help from our experienced legal services team. Legal services are provided free of charge here at WDC ensuring that justice is served for all individuals without any discrimination.
Counselling efforts often take a holistic approach as we realize that many of the mental struggles facing individuals and families are also connected issues of housing, education and unemployment. In order to assist our clients in overcoming the adversities that they face, various forms of counselling services are available at the WDC. Our centre provides:
- Family counselling
- Marital counselling
- Grief counselling
- Support for psychological and psychotic issues
WDC’s family counselling services works to encourage communication between family members and brings them together to work through issues they may be facing in their relationships. Counsellors work with clients to help identify specific problems they may be facing. Some of the problems which have been identified include, distrust, extramarital affairs, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence and financial complications. Such problems often result in issues such as anxiety, stress, eating and sleeping disorders and reduced concentration. The intervention of counselling services in these situations works to produce changes in thought and behaviour, build communication and listening skills and find alternative opportunities.
At our main Counselling Centre in Kandy, there are, on average 160 cases per year. However, there is a very high rate for repeat counselling and there it is estimated that 300 counselling sessions per year take place. Many family cases are referred through other NGO’s such as SUMITHRAYO.
Furthermore, we also provide family counselling at Women Welfare Centres in the following districts:
- Vavunia District
- Batticaloa District
- Nuwara Eliya District
- Hope Estate Rikillagaskada
Therefore, any person around the island can receive help from our counselling team. If you are also suffering from depression, stress or any issue that you cannot share with anyone else, do not hesitate to contact our counselling team. They are ready to support you and they will guarantee privacy and confidentiality.
With the support of Handicap International (HI) and International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES), WDC embarked on a project mainly focusing on the active participation of women with and without disabilities in decision-making in relation to Sri Lanka’s peace and reconciliation process. WDC’s aim is to create opportunities and provide a platform where women have space to exchange across divides of language and religion, cast and creed along with other common issues that affect women overall. The project duration was 24 months with the main implementation cites being the North and Central provinces (war and non-war affected populations). The three main objectives of the project were (1) women with disabilities in Kilinochchi and Kandy have enhanced leadership skills to facilitate community reconciliation, (2) women with and without disabilities participate in Disabled Peoples Organisations (DPOs), local mainstream women, development and religious groups, contributing to national peace processes promoting social inclusion, protection and rights, and (3) gaps and opportunities in the LLRC National Action Plan, NAPD and Sri Lankan Women’s Charter are addressed at national and local levels via inclusive gender sensitive evidence based advocacy. The project helped
The platform of Equality training (ET) was created to enable individuals to receive awareness and information on rights based issues as well as training on various skills that they would be able to pass on to others, better known as ‘training of trainers’ (TOT). With much groundwork done by WDC, 29 women with and without disability were chosen as trainers. As an initial step, training was given on ET especially focusing on disability rights. The trainers created awareness amongst their own communities as well and other platforms and were given exposure visits to Northern and Central provinces of Sri Lanka. As a result, almost 600 individuals have been provided with Equality Training. A monumental achievement through the project was the round table discussions held at the Kandy D S office on the 12th of September 2017, where ETs presented an appeal to the governor of the Central Province. Recommendations were given on accessibility to and provision of disability friendly transportation services, increased participation of women with and without disabilities as decision makers/office bearers in local authorities, divisional level and provincial level Community Based Organisations (CBOs) and DPOs, increased membership of women with disabilities within Women’s Rural Development Societies, increased access to Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR), and having a personal bank account in one’s name and in being eligible for bank loans. This provided much needed exposure on the current needs of women, particularly women with disabilities. Relevant officers have shown an interest in improving and providing these services in the future. Positive change towards achieving peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka is evident, however it is a long process that needs to be continued on. The WDC, with its partners and women’s groups will continue to promote these concepts through its various programmes. Currently, together with HI, Search for Common Grounds (SFCG), Viluthu, the WDC is involved in a UNPBF project on Transitional Justice and Reconciliation (TJR), which focuses on inclusive peace in Sri Lanka through empowering women to participate in TJR. The project will be on going from 2017-2020.