The Transitional Justice and Reconciliation (TJR) project sought to empower women in Sri Lanka to participate across ethnic and religious divides in the TJR process. The project was funded by the UN Peacebuilding Fund and led by Humanity and Inclusion, in partnership with Search for Common Ground, the Women’s Development Centre and Viluthu. Through working with existing women’s forums, the project has created a set of platforms at district and national level through which women can raise awareness of their needs for transitional justice and reconciliation, and advocate for an addressing of those needs. The success of the project was demonstrated at its national advocacy meeting in March 2019, where women from the grassroots presented their needs of the TJR process as they have emerged from the platform the project has built. This represented women whose voices had previously rarely been heard, contesting how ‘justice’ is understood in that process before an audience that include those responsible for its implementation. This moment captured the project’s impact to date and its future potential, to both mobilise women and to make demands of the authorities. This evaluation has used quantitative data collected during project implementation and qualitative data collected as a part of the final evaluation process to seek to measure the extent to which the project has met its goals and to understand its broader impacts, relevance, effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability. The evaluation is driven by the evaluation standards of OECD DAC and the UN Evaluation Group (UNEG). An effort has been made to steer the evaluation with a gender analysis.
The primary outcomes of the project have been substantively met: women support a platform that crosses ethnic and religious divides for the purpose of influencing the TJR process and engage in a collaborative platform to provide common perspectives on TJR valued by relevant TJR stakeholders. Survey data show that a vast majority of women involved are willing to work with those of different ethnicity, religion and language and have confidence in the collaborative platform the project has created. Inter and intra-district exchanges in particular have changed attitudes profoundly. There remain challenges in the north however, where Tamil populations are distrustful of the majority community. The women engaged with the platform are everywhere enthusiastic about being a part of it, increasing understanding across communities and promoting the TJR process, both locally and nationally. The platforms provide a space to forge common perspectives on TJR and to share these with concerned actors.
In terms of understanding how change has been driven by the project, it can be seen that there are two very different types of theory of change (ToC) articulated in the project. The first is a programme-oriented ToC as described in the logframe that creates the platform, brings women together and seeks to change attitudes and drive national advocacy. The second is an actor-oriented ToC: once women have come together they define their priorities and the ToC that will drive change in their area. The project – rooted in longstanding grassroots women’s forums - creates a space for women on the ground to decide what issues to address and how to make an impact, representing an innovative approach to ensuring agency and ownership and localising the content of the project. This represents an innovative effective effort to drive a bottom-up transitional justice.
Over the two years of its duration, the project has enabled women to both develop agendas for advocacy at the local and national levels and to concretely seek to address local issues. The novelty and value of the project is that it permits a natural contextualization of understandings of justice on the basis of gendered and local needs, since agendas and theories of change emerge on the terms of women working within the platform. This has explicitly gendered how ‘justice’ in the TJR process is understood, with issues that were previously marginal in national discourse - such as livelihood and land – placed at the centre of advocacy. In multi-ethnic communities the project has advanced reconciliation and conflict prevention by engaging communities and their leaders, notably religious leaders. In the Tamil communities of Jaffna, the project has focused on advocacy with the state for mechanisms to address the needs of the conflict affected, such as around missing persons and the poverty of women-headed households. The project represents the first systematic effort to create a route from communities to the formal TJR process, and one that emerges from a gender analysis. As a result, the project contests a gender insensitive TJR process, by seeking to mainstream gender within it.
In terms of awareness raising, women involved are now aware of TJR and routes to addressing needs and issues, from a starting point of some ignorance. This process is universally seen among the women involved as driving empowerment, in terms of enabling women as actors who can have influence that can address their needs, particularly at the community level, where their issues have been made visible. There has also been success at the level of advocacy with local government where various stakeholders have been made aware of the issues and in some cases action taken to address them. An example is seen in the pledges of support received by the platform in Anuradhapura to address land issues.
The long-term impacts of the project, understood in terms of “promoting the TJR process and mechanisms” and to “provide common perspectives on TJR valued by relevant TJR stakeholders”, have only recently begun to be demonstrated. The successful demonstration of short-term impacts that have seen women develop knowledge, skills and awareness of shared interests across diverse communities and define and advance advocacy messages, has created a foundation for the achievement of these. The project has been extended by a third year thanks to additional funding and at the time of this evaluation national advocacy had just begun. The national advocacy meeting demonstrated the potential of an organised and motivated network to represent women’s interests. There remains a year of implementation to advance these impacts. In summary, all project objectives have been met, with the exception of national advocacy, which is in progress and on track to create impact before the project ends. However, project outcomes appear to demonstrate that the original project goals, centred on women’s perceptions and interest in coming together in the platform, were rather modest. In practice, the evaluation finds that the project has had significantly greater impact, particularly around local peacebuilding, than was planned.
Empowerment of women participants as a direct impact of the project has been seen not only in terms of knowledge and the advocacy that it enables, but more broadly, including at the family and community levels. A number of women stood in recent elections as a direct result of their engagement with the platform. The women involved are able to raise their voices and make demands about a range of issues, including those that go beyond the traditional understanding of what TJR encompasses.
The project is highly relevant, driven by the fact that Sri Lanka’s fragile transitional justice process has been little informed by either the grassroots or women. As such, the TJR process remains gender insensitive and framed in terms that refer more to global prescription than to the needs of conflict affected communities. The grassroots process that the project has catalysed complements the formal process at the national level, but also serves as something that can continue as a source of advocacy should the transitional justice process stall. The project has challenged a process that has been driven by male elites with one that emerges directly from women at the grassroots and reflecting the issues they prioritise.
Implementation has been efficient: for a modest budget the project has created a capacity through which the TJR process in Sri Lanka can be questioned and pushed in new directions on the basis of women’s everyday lives. The efficiency that enables this has several foundations, including the use of longstanding grassroots women’s forums that use existing resources and expertise rather than creating new, parallel structures, and volunteer facilitators as the key figures in project implementation: whilst significant resources were required to train these women, they now represent a long-term resource for this and future projects.
Project management, consortium structure and partner capacity have all proved to be more than sufficient to ensure effective implementation. The use of women’s forums for implementation has created a route to sustainability as TJR has been integrated into all the work they will undertake in the future. There does however remain a question over the longer-term sustainability of the project as one which links the grassroots and the national level, given the potential lack of long-term support for elements such as district platform meetings and national advocacy