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Home > News 10 January 2012
Hand in Hand: New film profiles women’s struggles against many odds  

Hand in Hand

As Sri Lanka emerges from nearly three decades of conflict, poor women face many challenges in earning incomes and raising their families.

A government survey, carried out in 2009/2010, found that nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of Sri Lanka’s 5.1 million households is headed by women.

Map of Sri LankaSuch women are often isolated and marginalised within their communities, making them more vulnerable than other women. Supporting them must be handled with empathy, sensitivity and care.

A new video film produced by TVE Asia Pacific (TVEAP) for CARE International Sri Lanka documents one such project.

Building Relationships In Development and Gender Equity (BRIDGE) project covered selected communities in Sri Lanka’s Polonnaruwa and Batticaloa Districts from 2007 to 2011. It was implemented by CARE International Sri Lanka in partnership with governmental organizations and community groups.

Titled ‘Hand in Hand’ the 16 minute video visits several participating communities as the project draws to an end, and takes stock of what has been accomplished as well as the remaining challenges.

“As the people of Batticaloa and Polonnaruwa districts grapple with issues of poverty and social exclusion, the BRIDGE project has helped rekindle the long Lankan tradition of community care and mutual support which helps people in good times and bad,” says TVEAP’s Manori Wijesekera who directed and produced the film.

The BRIDGE Project aimed for three main outcomes.

Firstly, it sought to prevent gender based violence.

Secondly, it increased acceptance of women-headed households by their communities and the government.

Thirdly, the project improved the whole community’s access to various services from the government and NGOs. As a result, service providers drew closer to the communities.

BRIDGE supported women who head their own households with small grants to start income generating activities or small businesses. Better incomes meant more stability – and improved standing in their own communities.

The film captures how BRIDGE partners use forum theatre to get everyone to talk about matters that are usually not discussed in the open – such as domestic violence, child abuse and alcohol addiction.


Women-headed Households

CARE and its partners use a broad definition of women-headed households. They consider ALL families where a woman is the main bread-winner -- or key decision maker. This covers not only widows, but also families where the male breadwinner has died, disappeared, become disabled, or is separated from the family.

Using this definition, the number of such households in Sri Lanka could be even higher than 23 per cent found in Sri Lanka’s Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2009/10.

The film’s story is mostly related through first person testimonies of beneficiaries. Some partners from state and civil society sectors are also interviewed.

After three years, the BRIDGE project has set up 53 Village Level Action Groups that now operate in the two districts. With their skills enhanced and confidence boosted, the communities have sufficient momentum to keep going.

Awareness and capacity have been built at higher (divisional and district) administrative levels as well. Government officials are active partners along with those working in various local and international NGOs.

CARE International Sri Lanka is also using these grassroots level experiences to enrich a national level discussion on women headed households and how best to reduce gender based violence.

To mark the end of BRIDGE Project, a national event titled 'Dignity for all: Learning and Knowledge Sharing' was held in Colombo on 9 December 2011 attended by the Deputy Minister of Health, Parliamentarians, project partners, researchers and policy makers.

The Hand in Hand film was screened at this event, and followed by a panel discussion chaired by Project Director Thamothiramplillai Thagavel. Four village level activists shared their experiences on how and why they changed their attitudes.

This was followed by a panel of experts from the development, psychology and political backgrounds and the discussion was lead by Ashika Gunasena, Director Programme Quality and Learning at CARE International Sri Lanka.

TVEAP also produced an illustrated book on learnings from the BRIDGE Project that was launched at this meeting.

Hand in Hand (16 mins, 2011, English)

Synopsis: The BRIDGE Project, implemented by CARE International Sri Lanka in partnership with state agencies, non-governmental organisations and community groups, had two main aims: to reduce gender-based violence, and to support women who head their own households. Ultimately, it sought to empower women emotionally, socially and economically. The project gave both skills training and livelihood support. It also enhanced awareness about their rights and how they can directly access various government services. This film revisits several participating communities as BRIDGE draws to an end. It takes stock of what has been accomplished and the remaining challenges.


Photos TVEAP Image Archive

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