A pioneering initiative to empower women community leaders involved in water resources management in rural Sri Lanka has been launched by the Brandix Group, in recognition of the fact that community-based organisations (CBOs) are responsible for a sixth of the country's water supply.
The programme titled 'Jalavahini' will see Sri Lanka's single largest apparel exporter, whose principal community engagement is also focussed on water, conducting a series of interactive training programmes across the country for women with 'hands-on' roles at the grassroots level in the water sector, in collaboration with NetWwater (Network of Women Water Professionals).
The first of these training programmes was ceremonially inaugurated by Water Supply and Drainage Minister, Dinesh Gunawardena at the Water Resources Board / Brandix Training Centre, Anuradhapura, for a representative group of women from the North Central Province, a region facing many serious water-related challenges. The Training Centre was built and donated to the government of Sri Lanka by Brandix and Gap Inc., USA in September 2007.
Speaking at the event, Minister Gunawardena said the government had given its blessings to these community-based organisations. In the Anuradhapura District alone, 19 percent of potable piped water was supplied by CBOs, the minister said. "This programme sponsored by Brandix is extremely important because it will help these organisations to develop an effective action plan by identifying future difficulties, challenges and trends," he said.
The Minister said the National Community Water Trust was set up outside the purview of government departments and companies to give them security, technology, strength and independence, and that his ministry would extend its cooperation to enable them to invest their earnings and make profits. He said the government was appreciative of the support of Brandix to this effort.
Anusha Alles, Head of CSR at the Brandix Group said: "There is an increasing trend of women bearing the brunt of social and economic costs related to water insecurity, especially in Sri Lanka's dry zone. Women community leaders take on volunteer activities on top of their domestic and professional responsibilities and have little opportunity to expand their knowledge or develop essential skills. The Jalavahini initiative proposes to fill this gap."
She said the training will be provided at residential programmes in order to make best use of time and travel costs. These sessions will provide networking as well as skills building opportunities.
"Anuradhapura was selected for the launch of this programme because it is one of the epicenters of Chronic Kidney Disease, attributed by some experts to poor water quality," Ms. Alles said. "We hope this initiative will also provide an opportunity for the organizers and institutional partners to understand the current issues and challenges facing women in the water sector at community level."
The pilot programme at Anuradhapura on 11th and 12th June 2012 brought together women community leaders from villages such as Hidogama, Sirmathipura, Kadawathagama, Kahatagasdigiliya, Mahakumbukgollewa, Gatalama, Galkulama, Mahabellankadawala, Maradankalla, Katuwela, Mahabulankulama, Hinguruwewa, Galenbindunuwewa, Thanthirimale and many others. The participants were either office bearers of community-based water organisations or those who play roles such as meter readers, pump operators or 'Keth Ela Niyojitha' (field canal representative) in irrigation systems.
Discussion topics included 'management challenges in community institutions,' 'climate change overview and its impacts for women in the North Central Province,' 'livelihood opportunities for Community Based Organisations,' 'financial education for women in community organizations,' 'water security issues related to women and irrigation in NCP,' 'water supply and water quality in NCP -implications for women,' and 'gender issues at the community level - impact on the water sector.'
According to NetWwater Chairperson Kusum Athukorala, Sri Lanka has about 3,500 community based organizations (CBO) in the water sector, functioning at differing levels of success. These are now being reorganized under the newly formed National Community Water Trust. Many of these organizations have extensive female participation at membership level but lesser input at managerial level. One of the primary objectives of NetWwater is to promote gender mainstreaming and creating opportunities for women in decision making to become full partners in sustainable water development, she said.
The outcomes of the first Brandix Jalavahini programme in Anuradhapura would be used to fine-tune the model for replication in other areas, including the north and east of Sri Lanka, where water management for water supply and sanitation, ecosystem management, irrigation and irrigated agriculture is critical in providing livelihood security for communities, Ms. Athukorala said.
The Brandix Group's principal CSR efforts are driven by the central corporate theme of 'Care for Water: Care for Women' and constitute a long term commitment to increasing the availability of water and the provision of safe drinking water to those most in need. The Group's community outreach initiatives also include providing wells and pipe-borne water to communities in and around its manufacturing plants and the improvement of sanitation facilities in needy areas.