Sumika Perera

Sri Lanka
Many women have been working at the grassroots level on various issues ranging from domestic to the issues related to agriculture, health, economy and politics overcoming various challenges of different nature. These women have committed their lives to bring about social justice and to empower their communities regardless of the sacrifices they have made to see the fruit of their efforts. However, less recognition has been given to these women even though their work has made a resounding impact on the community and its progress. 

Sumika Perera has been working closely with her community since her early 20s dedicating her life as a community worker. She has led many movements at the grassroots level speaking on behalf of farmers, labourers, and women in her community. By now she has over 25 years of experience in the field as a community worker and has worked in the women’s movement in Sri Lanka helping at many different levels to shape the community thinking. 

At present, she works as a coordinator of the Women’s Resource Centre where she works with the grassroots level people, especially with women focusing on human rights issues. According to Sumika, the Women’s Resource Center is a grassroots-level organisation which works with rural women in the Kurunegala District of Sri Lanka. Their main focus is on women’s rights; opposing all forms of discrimination and violence against women. Sumika added that they are dedicated to building a society with equality and dignity for all where they mainly work to empower grassroots level women economically, socially, and politically by increasing their awareness, helping to develop their capacities for self reliance and by ensuring their rights to land and livelihood. 

“As an Advanced Level student, I was involved in the movement against ‘Dawala Pathrika’. That was the point I started being politically aware of what was happening in the country. Since a very young age, I respected leftist and progressive ideologies and had great respect for democracy,” she said.

Sumika, now 51 years old, has said that she had to undergo a lot of hardship as a young activist initially as she started to work at the community level. According to her, it was great difficult not only for her but also for other girls at the time to come out of the house alone to work as there were so many restrictions for girls to work in the community, mainly because of the violent political culture that prevailed during that time. She also lived in hiding between 1988 and 1989 as she had received threats to her life during the JVP insurgency.

“There was a time that we had to live in hiding as there were threats to our lives. The JVP thought we were working against them. However, during that time, while I was in hiding, I had the opportunity to engage in my studies,” she said.

She has a diploma in Writership and Mass Communication Examination from Sri Jayawardanapura University. She has completed various leadership training programmes locally and internationally which include an International Leadership Development Course at Asian Health Institute in Japan.

 






Sumika also holds important positions in various social organisations where she is committed to work for peace and democracy. She has also worked as a member for the North Western Province committee of the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission and as the coordinator of CATAW, the Coalition for Assisting Tsunami Affected Women, where she has gained lot of experience as a community worker. Over the past 10-15 years, Sumika has conducted trainings and workshops throughout many parts of Sri Lanka, on topic ranging from Women and Gender, Gender and Disaster, Gender and Development, Gender Equality and Community Development, Sexual and Reproductive Health, Gender and Mass Media, Gender and good Governance, Women and Peace, Human Rights to Women’s Political Representation.

She has also immensely contributed as the Chief Editor of Eya, the feminist journal (Sinhala) published by the Women and Media Collective, since its inception in 1996 till 2013. She also has experience as a gender officer at Oxam where she had worked in areas covering Hambantota, Nuwara Eliya, Monaragala, Kegalle, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.

According to Sumika, she has conducted several training for trainers for the leaders at the community level, mainly empowering women. As a feminist writer as well as a trainer on gender, human rights, women’s political representation, leadership development, and conflict resolution, Sumika has shared lot of knowledge with the community on various matters.

Sumika has also conducted a project study to raise woman leaders’ awareness of social, economic and cultural rights focused on empowering marginalised women from two rural divisional secretariats in the Kurunegala District which have the highest reported number of women leaving to the Middle East for domestic work.

According to her, the Kurunegala District also has the highest number of soldier and police officer recruitment, and it is the District with a highest number of widows in the South of Sri Lanka. Sumika noted that during the study, issues were raised regarding unemployment, lack of access to livelihoods, their inability to continue with the existing livelihoods, lack of raw material, difficulties in selling their products, and transport problems. According to her, women are also facing many problems because of lack of decision making they involve with in relation to their bodies, violence and discrimination in society, lack of economic independence, and migration of women for employment.

“We still face many challenges because of the attitude that prevails in society towards women. Despite the fact that we live in a changed world and a time when compared them with the past, society’s perception of women has not evolved much. We still fight against certain ideologies in society,” she noted.

Sumika added that they have been working on increasing representation of women in politics for many years, but it is disappointing to note that Sri Lanka is still behind all the South Asian countries with regard to women’s representation in politics. She noted that it has been a long hard fight, but they will continue their fight till they accomplish their goals and get equitable representation of women in decision-making bodies.



 
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