Arda Aghazarian from the YWCA of Palestine reports on the delegation’s involvement and impressions.
As part of the project which specifically targets young women, with the support of FOKUS and in partnership with the World YWCA, Y-Global and the YWCAs of Palestine, Southern Sudan and Sri Lanka, and which is in line with the World YWCA and YWCA of Palestine Power to Change Fund under the title “Enhancing Leadership and Civic Engagement of Young Women to become Advocates for Change,” young women from YWCAs in countries of conflict were given the opportunity to partake in a visit to Sri Lanka from December 3-11, 2011 and attend the Sthree Mela conference.
The program, co-hosted by the World YWCA and the YWCA of Sri Lanka, started with the young women’s dialogue on the 3rd of December, where young women from the YWCAs of South Sudan, Palestine, Colombia, Myanmar and Zimbabwe got the chance to meet with young women members from Sri Lanka and share their experiences as young women in conflict-driven areas and the challenges they face in their communities.
That same evening, the group set off on a long journey by bus heading to Jaffna. The trip up north gave the young women’s group good overview of the conflict in Sri Lanka and the difficult circumstances and remnants of struggle that have remained after the war has ended in 2009.
The group reached Jaffna on the 5th of December with a visit to the Refugees Rehabilitation Organisation. Participants were given a brief about the organisation’s history (established in 1983) and the changes it has gone through during the conflict due to the borders being closed. The organisation’s main focus remains to be on livelihoods in relation to the large number of internally displaced persons, in addition to the humanitarian assistance that was done in 2005 to help those affected by the tsunami.
That same day, the journey commenced and became more difficult with the visit of four different families in the IDP camp in Jaffna. Houses have been isolated, destroyed yet are inhabited up to this day by the victims of war, mostly young widows who are trying to raise their children under extremely difficult if not impossible circumstances; lacking basic house utilities such as beds, bathrooms or even a path to walk through and living in a very unhealthy environment. The next visit was to the Jaffna Hospital and meeting its Director, Dr. Mrs. Pasupathirajah, who spoke of the health problems resulting from displacement, losing houses and care-givers, and living in crowded camps.
After a difficult day, the YWCA of Jaffna and its President Ms. Soundari Watson Ratram hosted the group to a friendly cultural evening, where special dances were performed by the young kids of different ages who were happy to receive the International YWCA delegation. Later that evening, the group got the chance to meet with the first Government Agent in Sri Lanka, Mrs. Emelda Sukumar. The G.A. spoke of the help that was offered by the UNDP and other NGOs and security to help re-build the houses that were damaged by the mines, and noted that 35,000 families have gone back to their original homes since 2009. She stressed that more facilities are needed in Jaffna as there are challenges to renovate or re-cancel houses in the area. Violence against Women has also been prevalent during the war, with 221 reported cases in the hospital, a large number of which was due to domestic violence. One of the additional concerns in Jaffna is the large number of widows (about 29,000), which could potentially introduce more problems in the future.
Heading back from Jaffna, which would be a longer trip by bus than anticipated, participants expressed that the time spent in Jaffna has been quite difficult as it brought to their eyes vulnerable people who have been affected by being placed in war-torn areas. The visit has infused a strong sense to stay committed as a movement and double the efforts in creating safe spaces for women. Real solidarity, it was expressed, is where the people are, and the members of this particular solidarity visit are themselves experiencing similar issues, and have hence valued the visit and found it to be very rewarding in working together towards peace with justice and creating safe spaces for women.