As an organisation that takes a holistic approach to social development, Healthy Lanka gives importance to the physical and mental health, as well as the socioeconomic wellbeing of women. Despite making up more than half of the country’s population and being in a relatively favourable position when compared to women in other South Asian countries, Sri Lankan women face several problems that bear an impact on their overall wellbeing. Discriminatory gender practices ingrained in the local culture see women as inferior to men and have long been shaping the mindset of the people. As a result, women tend to be vulnerable to gender based violence and have limited control over their lives and economic resources. This culture in which unhealthy attitudes and attitudes towards gender roles and the social responsibilities of men and women are prevalent is highly conducive to discrimination against girls and women at home and in the workplace. It also makes women more vulnerable to domestic violence and other forms of physical, mental, and verbal abuse.
Over the past several years, there has been a rapid increase in the incidence of rape and other forms of violence against women. It is also not uncommon to find women in abusive marriages or women who suffer from physical abuse at the hands of their, often alcoholic, spouses. As the culture teaches girls to remain submissive since they are very young, many girls and women lack leadership skills or the confidence to fight back any injustices committed against them. Even in extreme cases such as rape or domestic violence, there are no strong safety networks in society to ensure the protection of women. Due to both, the increase in rape and widespread ignorance among young people regarding reproductive health, the number of abortions is increasing and with it, problems arising from poorly performed abortion procedures as well as STDs.
The above problems pose a great obstacle to the overall development of the country. In working specifically with women and men on gender related issues, we at Healthy Lanka aim to eradicate, or at least reduce the incidence of, problems connected to matters pertaining to gender. This is because such matters are connected to other issues that hinder social development such as alcohol and drug use and the violation of child rights. Our programmes seek to promote good physical and mental health in women thereby laying the foundation for the creation of a happy and healthy society.
The Prevention of Gender Based/Domestic Violence
Using the approach, “prevention is better than cure”, Healthy Lanka seeks to tackle gender base/domestic violence at its very root. Recognising that these acts are the result of unhealthy attitudes towards gender, we help women and men to unlearn the traditional gender related norms and expectations and learn a healthier understanding on gender. This knowledge could be transferred by the community to the younger generations, creating a society free from gender based/domestic violence.
We conduct awareness programmes in communities for women regarding their nutritional needs. As a result of cultural practices in which more and better food is usually given to the males in the household, malnutrition is highly prevalent among men. Women and girls may also face dietary restrictions due to various beliefs concerning girls when they reach puberty, pregnant women, and new mothers. This leads to poor nutrition among women and girls and the prevalence of conditions such as anemia. Our programmes enable women and girls to better understand their nutritional needs and receive the nutrition they require.
Sexual and Reproductive Health
With the aim of preventing the spread of STDs, harmful sexual practices, underage pregnancies, and abortions, Healthy Lanka conducts community level workshops targeting adults and youth. These workshops present communities, especially youth, with important information on sexual and reproductive health that are generally not discussed at home or on schools due to lack of awareness and various social taboos.
When conducting community health programmes, medical emergencies and sudden injuries are topics that should not be neglected. To build a healthy community, members of the community should be trained to act in case of a medical emergency as proper pre-hospital care can prevent serious damage and even be lifesaving. For this reason, we at Healthy Lanka incorporate first aid training as a key component in our programmes for men, women, youth, and children. Our first aid training course is a short certificate course on basic first aid techniques and how they should be administered.
A healthy home environment is of vital importance to the physical and mental wellbeing of all members of society. It is especially important in raising happy and healthy children, the future of the country. Building a healthy home is therefore another major component of our women’s programme. It includes the prevention of domestic violence; the prevention of alcohol, tobacco, and drug use; the protection and care of children; and the learning of a healthy attitude towards gender.
Alcohol, Tobacco, and Drug Prevention for Women
Our alcohol, tobacco, and drug promotion programmes include a special component particularly to train women as prevention workers. Though most women in Sri Lanka do not use these substances, they may have spouses who suffer from addictions and are at higher risk of falling victim to violence related to substance use. To tackle these problems, we build women’s groups in communities through which the women are empowered to play an active role in conducting prevention work in their communities and preventing the use of substances in their homes. Women are trained not to pardon or sanction substance related misbehaviour and to participate in advocacy activities for the enforcement of policies to control alcohol, tobacco, and drug use.
Women as Leaders
When looking at those holding leadership and decision making positions in society today, it is notable that most of these positions are held by men and that it is often men who speak on behalf of women. Starting at the community level, we establish civil society organisations in each of our working locations and appoint both, men and women as office bearers. We also form women’s alert groups for the prevention of substance use and gender based violence. In doing so, we seek to capacitate women to take on leadership and participate as active, productive members of society.