Many doors have been opened for social service. Even though there are many who stay away from helping people despite being aware of their needs, and having the means to help them, there are also those with a sense of social responsibility who continue to involve in activities pertaining to the welfare of the people.
Among the many who involve in social service through welfare associations, community centers, and private voluntary organisations, I, Shandravathani Kantharasa, am also one who involves in community service through a community center to date.
I reside in Uduvil East, Jaffna. Even though I studied up to Advanced Level at the Inuvil Central College, I could not complete my Advanced Level due to certain reasons. However, I underwent a training programme provided by my community center for primary teachers, and thereby continued my service as a primary school teacher.
We were compelled to flee from our homes due to fighting in 1990. I continued my service as a teacher for primary students by teaching children in the camp. I was appointed as a coordinator for primary schools by a voluntary organization which was running the camp. Thereby, I was able to train many other primary school teachers as well. In addition, I also got the opportunity to extend the activities of the community center to other several other districts.
The women’s group of the community center to which I am attached to, established women’s associations in many areas and also established the Valikamam cluster by linking the coconut and palmyrah development associations of the region. At the time, I too got the opportunity to work with the cluster organization. These types of activities were largely related to the public.
As far as my region of residence is concerned, the area has been impacted in many ways, and is also a region which is below the poverty line. Since it is a village-based region, the general mindset of the people was that girls need not continue their academic activities beyond a certain age. However, we identified women who were interested in pursuing their academic activities, provided counselling, and conducted classes through our community center. At the same time, violence against women is also rampant. Men’s addiction to alcohol is a factor which has had a severe impact on women. During the earlier days, we not only conducted awareness programs on eradicating alcohol usage, but also organized several awareness programs on violence against women as well. There have been considerable changes within our society as a result of these awareness programs.
Even though I have attempted to solve such social issues on my own, I have also been able to join hands with several social service groups to take certain steps in this regard. I have also got the opportunity to implement livelihood initiatives along with youth organizations based in the Jaffna District. Though we have initiated several such programs at district levels, there are several initiatives which we have limited to the villages.
In this backdrop, I was provided with the opportunity to indulge in several field work activities together with women’s organizations during the conflict period. The women’s organization provided us with self defense training and psychological exercises, which allowed us to carry out several initiatives for those who were affected. Even before the idea of initiating activities towards a political change to win our rights had bloomed within me, I had already decided to carry out the work towards that goal along with organizations that I worked with. That was when the 2018 election was announced. At that time, the PLOTE organization reached out to me through their youth team in our area on the basis of their plan to include women as candidates. Even when the youth team came up to me with their proposal, I did not show any interest in it. We were provided with the opportunity to enter politics due to the request made by our youth. I did not have anyone as a role model for me in this journey.
As a woman politician, the experiences which I gained by working with organizations during my field activities helped me in my new journey as well. There have been instances where I have been ridiculed. But I have continued to do my work by ignoring them. There have only been very few instances where men have opposed my views. This is because I express my views knowing my place. There have been times where many members have carried out work based on my advice. During the initial stages, the fund allocation was inadequate and therefore, we have to carry out our social work while working with other organizations. However, in the later years, I have been able to overcome this situation and carry out several projects as a politician.
During the election campaign, the people were familiar with me. Some of my supporters were also part of my political campaigns. Some pledged to vote for me even though they said they did not know me. People voted in favor of me because of the work that I had carried out through the women’s organization. The party provided me with the posters for the election and also gave me an advance or Rs. 5,000. In addition, my supporters and relatives provided me with money as well. I used my own money to cover the remaining expenses.
The trainings which I received before the election helped me to a great extent to carry out my activities after I was elected to the Pradeshiya Sabha. The training which I had received on community team mobilization helped me during the community team mobilization program that was initiated by the council. There is very little competitiveness when submitting petitions. However, even when my petitions were opposed, I was able to get them passed. On some occasions, I am given only a short time period to speak at the council. At the same time, there are men who oppose petitions that are tabled by women. There prevails a situation where members who are elected on the basis of proportional representation are opposed.
Through the budget allocations, we have renovated several roads through the Gamperaliya project. At the same time, we have been able to carry out some of the projects through the funds that have been allocated by members of the party. We have created an easy loan scheme using the funds of some of the members, and have provided loans using these funds. We have also provided assistance to educational institutions, primary schools and other schools. It should be noted that we have not received the third installment of the funds for the Gamperaliya project. We continue to carry out various initiatives through the annual budget allocations. There were at least 45 roads that were in need of renovation in our circuit. Most of these roads have now been renovated and only a few remain. At the same time, we have also taken steps to improve livelihoods. We have worked with certain organizations in this regard. In the same manner, I have commenced activities to develop the cemetery and to clean solid waste with the help of the Pradeshiya Sabha and other organizations.
Proportional system must continue to be implemented. In terms of women’s contribution, this system must be implemented even at national level elections, including the general election. Parties too, must provide opportunities to women. My request is that this must be made law. This must be made law even for elections conducted at the national level.
Trainings must be continued for women to be empowered. It would be better to provide trainings and provide financial contributions to implement project plans independently. Easy loan schemes must be introduced to improve livelihoods of women headed households.
I am interested in contesting the provincial council elections in the future. The party should give its approval for that. If the party does not permit, it would be difficult for me to contest as an independent candidate. As far as women are concerned, funding is a big problem. It would be good if voluntary organisations come forward to provide financial support to women who come forward to contest. Even though the vote bank is strong, there is also a need to represent parliament. It should happen in a gradual manner. At the same time, I have also identified women who could represent our circuit in the future. I am in the process of providing them with the necessary advice and guidance. I am in the process of empowering them with the help of women’s associations. More women should participate in politics in the future. They must act collectively. My vision is for women to evolve as the major part of politics in the future.
This was prepared as part of the Female Councillor’s Capacity Development Project of One Text – with the permission of the councillor to publish the document.