WOICE sounds like voice, and the w stands for women. However, do women have a voice to articulate their difficulties and their needs? Do they have a voice to speak against the violence that goes on in their communities?

The Women Organised for Inclusion through Community Engagement (WOICE) Learning and Advocacy Symposium organized by NPC brought together more than 120 women leaders and activists from seven districts across the country. The symposium offered an opportunity for women leaders and activists from community level organizations to engage with national level women leaders.

It marked the final stage of the project, uniting the women who have been capacitated in core skills to become Super Group and Peer Group members in their communities and to be a networking opportunity for women.

Guest speakers included former MP Ferial Ashraff who brought attention to the linguistic barriers within the country and underscored the critical role of women, particularly mothers, in shaping the nation's future. “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,” she said. She advocated for a reflective approach to overcoming national challenges, emphasising the need for women to actively participate in decision making processes.

MP Dr. Sudharshani Fernandopulle pointed out that the lack of inclusivity silenced women's voices, making them passively wait for men to create solutions. She urged that in the context of forthcoming elections, the system of preferential voting should be used to ensure that at least one of the three preferential votes given to individual voters was used to vote for women candidates.

MP Thalatha Athukorala noted that women excelled in academics with many becoming university professors and lecturers yet they rarely voted for each other, became role models or fostered collaboration to shatter the glass ceiling together.

Former UN Under Secretary General and human rights advocate Radhika Coomaraswamy gave different examples of women being empowered and working towards reconciliation. In Somalia, a country that had five clans fighting and killing each other, women formed a sixth clan that became the Somali women’s movement, which secured a 12% quota in the reconciliation process. She noted that the project could form the basis of women’s organisation as a group. “Real change will only begin at the community level,” she said.

US Ambassador Julie Chung encouraged the women to work towards a common goal. “Through this group the seeds are planted,” she said, adding that it was important to revitalise civic space through women. “You are providing real life examples of leadership.” She referred to the importance of inclusion especially during this time of transition in working out durable solutions. She pointed to the inclusion of women as an important part of an inclusive democracy in which the wellbeing of all sections of the people could be met.

During a panel discussion featuring academics Prof. Sumathy Sivamohan and Dr. Pavithra Jayawardhena and social activists Ms. Shanthi Dissanayake and Ms. Nirupa Serasinghe, the main challenges faced by women were analysed. These included how women organized themselves to talk about their community problems, how they were economically excluded from education and academia, how at an early age they were socialised in a culture of oppression, how women were victimised by men and how women sometimes treated other women poorly. To counter this, women had to become active and gather their own knowledge and information independently.

During the final session of the symposium representatives from the seven districts presented their activities and achievements.

One of the key observations related to the lack of knowledge of the laws on the part of citizens and implementation of them by the state. The women across all these districts were keen to learn - to have an improved conceptual understanding of governance and accountability processes and a practical understanding of relevant laws and policies and skills for effective community interventions.

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