By Caryll Tozer and Soraya M. Deen
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Dec 22 2020 – During the COVID 19 lockdown in Sri Lanka, seven women from diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds came together to deliver Wisdom and their message that women must be empowered and their voices for national unity must be heard through this movement.
We called ourselves the Wisdom Women and named the online program we created, “Wisdom Wednesdays”. The program airs every fortnight and since its inception in March 2020, we have hosted 21 stimulating shows, with thousands of people watching from across the world.
As co-founders, a Muslim and a Christian, we are determined to continue with the show until enough number of women stand up and say, “our country and the next generations deserve better and therefore we must speak up as a movement of women and work for national unity and reconciliation.”
A thirty-year bloody war has left Sri Lanka divided. One might expect our governments to move forward with a robust agenda for peace building. But nothing has improved, not even a tourniquet to arrest the bleeding. Successive governments have not spelt a serious agenda,
As conservation and environmental activists, we have worked to co-found an organization to support and eradicate abuse through the organization: One Home at a Time, which has built 17 homes for women-led households and wells for villages that need water. We believe that each individual can make a difference, and we have raised money, built homes, for these women and their family that lack basic housing. We have seen what happens when you support a woman who then can raise her family.
Whether we show up in NE Nigeria, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, women have been dealt a raw hand. Patriarchy and misogyny are institutionalized, structural, interpersonal and intra personal.
An incredible team of powerful women, each one more powerful in their experience and individual body of work comprise the team. The group represents the various ethnicities, religions and gains strength from each other. We have an incredible team.
Along with us there is Selvi Sachithanandam who through her foundation helps peace building and social transformation through spirituality; Kamani Jinadasa who is the founder of a center for troubled youth and works extensively against gender-based violence.
We also have Farzana J. Khan who helps through her foundation supporting education, and works on small and medium enterprise; Ven. Tenzin Leckdron a Bikkuni who belongs to a monastery in Tibetan Buddhism and currently works in remote areas in Australia; and, Ameena Hussein who is engaged in various social work and is a publisher and writer.
All power houses in their own field. Having gone through life’s tremendous challenges and hardships, we know very well what it takes to uplift women and give them the skills to thrive.
Our mission is to educate and inspire women. Teach women some basic skills, but first to let them know they are POWERFUL. The work at Wisdom Wednesdays has just begun.
We are taking our show and our gifts on the road. We have structured workshops to suit one day and residential programs for women. We want to bring them together; inspire them to build power, and organize the community.
Sri Lanka has a female population of 52%, with an abysmal parliamentary representation. Less than 12 % of the representatives are women. COVID has sent a powerful message to the strong-willed women of Sri Lanka. It is a time for reflection and for change.
Women have risen to the challenge to keep their home fires burning, care for their children, face abuse and violence undeterred. Our goal is to tap into that strength and resilience.
We also believe that at a national level, a woman’s voice must be heard at every negotiating table in order to bring in a balanced and cohesive response to issues.
We are subtle activists, not armchair program designers. When we get to the river if we find the water muddy and dirty, we get into the river and clean the water. Our deepest concern now is funding to take this movement to the next level.
Bringing together 35 women to a residential workshop from Friday afternoon to Sunday is costly. But we see something beyond, that when love, expertise and commitment come together, magic can happen. There will be enablers, and there will be minority rights and women’s rights which are in great jeopardy.
The UN has established gender equality as both a stand-alone goal and a central tenet to achieving an inclusive and sustainable development agenda by 2030. We must promote participation. Promoting participation – means recognising we each have something unique and important to contribute to society.
We want to promote two more concepts through our work. Subsidiarity, and ending future conflict. We have not witnessed subsidiarity in the context of social theory, premised upon empowering individuals to resolve issues that affect them without interference from larger, and often more centralised, social, private, religious or government bodies.
Currently, Wisdom Wednesdays is being watched in over 8,000 homes across the world. We receive encouraging comments from diverse audiences. In a divided world hearing a positive message is like a drop of water in the ocean.
There is no good news anymore. People who watch TV know this. Feeding the spiritual is as important as feeding the hungry. People are hungry for hope and a new way forward.
Individual transformation, focused and committed action leads to community transformation. This time we want to mobilize women to take that action. We need women to speak out against divisiveness and bring a stop to racism and bigotry. We want to address these issues through experiences and wisdom of the women. Unified we will be that much stronger.
*Caryll Tozer is a committee member of The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society, the third oldest conservation organization in the world. She lives by the premise that “to remain silent when there is injustice makes one culpable”.
*Soraya M. Deen travels across Sri Lanka mobilizing women, men and interfaith groups to understand and explore contextual realities for the problems they face by bringing together like-minded community members to solve – urgent, relevant, winnable action. She is the Founder of the Muslim Women Speakers Movement, inspiring voices of change. Soraya serves as a resource person and women’s outreach coordinator for the Omnia Institute of Contextual Leadership, a think tank in Chicago that addresses religious based oppression, dominance and violence.