Sri Lanka: Tsunami disaster latest - Women's rights
The women, mostly widows from 64 villages in Ambalanthota, in the southern district of Hambantota, attended a women's camp organised by Walawe Kantha Maha Sangamaya (WKMS), ActionAid's local partner.
The camp provided them with an opportunity to share their problems and have fun trying to find solutions with both governmental and non-governmental organisations.
"We have organised this women's camp because it is essential to cultivate common understanding among themselves," says Ms. Hettiarachchi, Coordinator of WKMS.
The most common problems identified at the camp included lack of awareness about their own rights, traditional gender attitudes, domestic violence, different legal issues, financial problems and early marriages.
These issues are now included in their work agenda to fight for their rights.
"Women from this area do not have any exposure to talk of their problems to relevant agencies and officials and this camp gives them the opportunity to get that exposure," Hettiarachchi adds.
The camp also provided the women an opportunity in sports activities, folk games, street theatre and other group activities in an environment where such activities are not common.
"Our work, and initiatives like this women's camp, aims to create awareness among women, strength their linkages and engage with local organizations and governmental bodies to promote structural power changes which lead to improve the situation of women in Sri Lanka," says Kisholi Perera, ActionAid's Women's Rights Team Leader.
Vinitha Nadhani (47), a participant in the camp from Meda Eliya village says: "This camp gives us an opportunity to learn what we can do when our rights are violated."
Tsunami affected and excluded people from Ambanthota, especially women, have been unable to participate in planning and implementation of development activities. As a result, their needs have not addressed been addressed adequately.
"Today thanks to this camp I got to know that I can go to the police and complain against my husband," says Priyanthi (30). He husband left her a few years back with a child.
"I basically came to interact with other women and understand what their problems are. I am happy because while listening to others I can learn more and try to do something to help them," says Vinitha.
ActionAid and WKMS, a network of more than 4,000 women, are working with communities in Hambantota to build their skills and confidence to challenge attitudes and policies which have resulted in women and girls being exposed to violence and often having poorer health education and work opportunities than men and boys.
Both organisations are also working with local government to improve coordination between government agencies and NGOs and to encourage women's participation in decisions which affect their lives.