Granted! Funds For SRHR Capacity Building.

In more exciting news, The British Council was awarding grants for several projects…and guess what, we won one too! Several others including Tracy Holsinger, Ashanti, and Hashtag Generation were awarded grants for similar empowering projects as well.

Our project aims at developing tools and interfaces for girls living with hearing disabilities. We will be focusing our efforts at the Rathmalana School for the Deaf.

Starting from now, the project continues until next March. The work isn’t limited just to the girls—it will also include their teachers, instructors and mentors. After meeting the school’s board of directors, we will develop teacher training materials for the teacher training workshops, which we hope to conduct throughout April to June.

There will be focus group discussions with the children (who are mainly young girls) and their teachers, as we also work on developing material and a digital interface for students, with sign language interpretations on life skills.

We hope that this initiative will help empower girls with hearing disabilities to make informed choices about their bodies, and instill a sense of self-confidence in them. We also want to help create a safe platform for the girls to have conversations about these topics, while sensitizing and enhancing the capabilities of their teachers and instructors with regards to SRHR.

Being experts in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, three of our core group will be implementing the project: Sarah Soysa, Dulitha Jayasekara, and Dakshita Wickremarathne.

If you have any queries, please feel free to drop us a mail at youthchampions.sl@gmail.com , or contact us via FB and Twitter.

 

 

The Plight of the Plantation Sector and how we can Help

As the Youth Advocacy Network, we don’t just advocate for rights. We do what we can to empower people lead better lives. This includes training, mentoring, and spreading awareness—all while having regular day jobs.

One of the projects our co-founder Sarah was recently involved in was to help combat sexual and gender-based violence in the plantation sector of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka already has a Domestic Violence Act, and is a signatory to multiple international machineries and mechanisms. Yet, there is a significantly higher amount of sexual abuse and violence in the plantation sector than in other urban regions.

Why?

Well, there are multiple reasons for this. However, to put it simply, some of the biggest factors are poverty and lack of education. The plantation workers have long been an exploited segment of disenfranchised people. Though they have basic rights now (like the right to vote, and being granted Sri Lankan citizenship), they still have long, hard battles. The daily wage system is especially problematic, in addition to being geographically isolated from basic and necessary infrastructure, and not being able to communicate fluently due to language barriers.

Statistics

Over 31% of women in the estate sector are underweight, as are most of their children. The under five mortality rate is 33/1000 live births as opposed to the national figure of 11/1000 live births.

Additionally, women in the estate sector have extremely low knowledge of gender-based violence, sexually transmitted disease, and related healthcare services.

Alcoholism is rampant in the estates, especially among men. 40% of the estate sector families are drinkers, compared to the 17% in urban and rural areas. This in turn leads to violence in homes.

Estate employees live in line rooms—tiny lodgings with barely any ventilation. They also lack basic facilities. Numerically, only 66.3% have sanitary facilities, 11% has clean drinking water, and 68% of the homes are equipped with electricity.

According to the poverty headcount index in 2012/13, 8.8% of the estate sector families live below the poverty line. 18% of married women between the ages of 15-49 have never been to school.

What can be done to alleviate this?

Community members stated that gender-based violence can reduce if there were effective, and active systems in place. This includes strengthening the police system and enforcing the law properly, getting the support of estate managers in resolving community issues, and ensuring male involvement in discussions.

In addition to this, everyone from children upwards should be made aware of legal repercussions as well.

This includes collective discussions with all concerned authorities. To this end, we organised sessions with

  • Public health midwives
  • Public health inspectors
  • Child development officers
  • Women development officers
  • Government Agents office staff

We covered topics ranging from sex and gender, forms of violence, the current situation in Sri Lanka, fatal and non-fatal outcomes of sexual and gender-based violence, laws and policies, how to respond, and more.

As a result

We can happily say that access to quality SGBV services for community members,
specifically, women and girls, has improved. There’s also an improvement with  Government officers and authorities, in their service delivery
skills on SGBV. They have developed non-judgemental attitudes, especially in  gender-responsive, rights-based approaches.

We did have several challenges; from being able to conduct sessions with the police, to getting permission, and developing a healthy relationship between the authorities and volunteers, especially in breaking the power-hierarchy. Not to mention it was also time consuming! However, we think we have managed to make this project sustainable, at least to a certain extent.

And we are definitely happy that we managed to help empower these communities, in a measurable way.

What we discussed on issues related to SRHR and bodily autonomy of women at the Think Tank

In September 2015 Youth Advocacy Network Sri Lanka initiated the National Youth champions Think Tank on unsafe abortion and network building meeting. The Youth Champions of Asia Safe Abortion Partnership and young peer educators of YPEER Sri Lanka decided to come together and form Youth Advocacy Network Sri Lanka with the focus on young peoples SRHR, bodily autonomy and gender equality.

The think tank had medical professionals, researchers, economists, young journalists, ministry and government representatives, Civil society organisations, National youth bodies, a medical student, a young person living with disability, lawyers and law students present at the meeting. It was such a pleasure for us at YANSL to get participants for the meeting from organisations and bodies such as the Ministry of Health, Family Health Bureau, National Committee on women, Family planning association of Sri Lanka, Women and media collective, Women in Need, The Grassrooted trust, Action Against apathy, Media, National youth services council federation of youth clubs and more.

The think tank was focused on issues related to unsafe abortion – what we as young people can do and what we need the authorities to support us with. The discussions brought up the lack of accurate information for young people on their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and the issues related to a lack of support for health care providers as a result of stigma and legal restrictions. This diverse group of stakeholders and other supporters will hopefully increase the legitimacy of national voices and result in an increase in visibility and a change in the existing law.

Here are some of the key points that were discussed and debated in the meeting.

  • We need to target vulnerable youth and Sri Lanka is identified as a priority country on abortions by FIGO.
  • This is a good time to take the abortion advocacy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights efforts forward.
  • Issues related to unsafe abortion can be tackled providing accurate information and services to a certain extent.
  • Immediate need for Comprehensive sexuality and relationship education in schools was echoed by many.
  • Workshops with women’s ministry, Media workshops for SRHR and HIV havas been happening and there are several new short films and videos on issues related to teenage pregnancy.
  • The policy paper on unsafe abortion needs to be pushed
  • Gender based violence and challenges addressing violence need to be brought attention through media
  • There has been a research conducted with doctors on abortion law ( targeting 220 doctors) on their perceptions and attitudes
  • We need to find innovative mechanisms to deliver SRHR knowledge
  • Lack of availability of information, less access to research and data make these issues more complicated and hard to write or talk about
  • The young journalists were particularly keen to contact several officials and ministries for interviews, access data, have press conferences.
  • It was also highlighted that journalists and media being more sensitized, ethical and responsible when writing articles related to SRHR and gender equality related issues.
  • It was commonly suggested to identify less progressive arguments and discriminatory myths and misconceptions related to SRHR and unsafe abortion related issues and address them with data on social media.
  • Challenges faced by young advocates and activists in the grassroot level when working on SRHR of young people was discussed in detail where several officials offered their support to deal with some issues specially related to access and information.
  • Importance of having a glossary and reviewing the education curriculum of young people living with disabilities to add more rights based gender responsive sexuality education into their education.
  • Importance of having rights based gender responsive education in medical and nursing schools was highlighted.
  • It was also discussed how we can localize Sustainable Development Goals specially related to reproductive health and gender equality after the goals are adopted.

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BEIJING+20 YOUTH STATEMENT ON SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND RIGHTS AND GENDER EQUALITY SRI LANKA 2015

BEIJING+20 YOUTH STATEMENT ON SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND RIGHTS AND GENDER EQUALITY SRI LANKA 2015

We, as the young people of Sri Lanka, recognize the important achievements in the field of  education and employment opportunities for women since the Beijing Platform for Action  1995. In terms of gender equality, we have also ratified the Convention to Eliminate all forms of  Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) as of October 1981. Sri Lanka also adopted a  comprehensive Women’s Charter in 1993 framed on the principles of equality and nondiscrimination enshrined in CEDAW. Despite all these achievements however, there is a  significant prevalence of discrimination against girls and women. Young women lack the  opportunity to make decisions concerning their own bodies –especially in relation to abortion,  marital law is not discussed, and there is a lack of young, capable women in decision making  positions of power and authority. Young women and girls are victims of discrimination based  purely on their gender. Female unemployment rate is twice that of the male unemployment rate. Approximately 6.3% teen pregnancies are reported every year in Sri Lanka.1 More than 700 unsafe abortions happen every day in Sri Lanka.2 Sri Lanka has the highest rate of sexual  harassment in South Asia where recent research found that 70%of women aged 15-45 had experienced sexual harassment on public transport.

Additionally, in spite of legal measures in place to protect women’s rights, the existence of  social, cultural and religious barriers are prevalent throughout the country, preventing women  and girls from achieving their full potential and making them victims of circumstance depending  on their socio-cultural background. It may seem paradoxical; we have a National Youth Policy in  place, yet we also have laws criminalizing homosexuality, and a lack of Comprehensive Sexuality  Education (CSE) and safe abortion services, except when the mother’s life is in danger. This, and  society’s constricted outlook on the definition of what young women should be like, leads to  very realistic fears concerning the deteriorating status of women in modern-day Sri Lanka.  There is a lack of equality for women in social and political contexts, including where their  health rights are concerned. We believe that implementation of the existing adolescent health  strategy and national youth policy, and approving the Health of Young Persons’ Policy would
resolve most of the existing issues.

Following our advocacy training and youth review of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA), 26  participants from government and civil society organisations decided to focus on four key areas  of the BPFA to be given precedence in the Post 2015 development agenda that Sri Lanka will  undertake. Our major areas of concern are Women and Health, Violence against Women,  Women in Power and Decision Making, and The Girl Child.
1. Women and Health
Introduce and provide Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) at school level to all students
regardless of gender, religion and or other factors. Implement the Lessons Learnt and
Recommendation Commission’s (LLRC) recommendations regarding women’s health and rights.
Decriminalize abortion in cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormalities and provide safe,
affordable, accessible abortion, including effective post-abortion care. Ensure and strengthen
the provision of equal, accessible, affordable, comprehensive, confidential, non-judgmental,
and non-discriminatory youth friendly healthcare and information services irrespective of
gender or sexual identity, which includes sexual and reproductive health services (including HIV
and STI services). Provide non-discriminatory service to women who are at an increased risk or
who are vulnerable to HIV and STIs by training health service providers to acquire necessary
skills and attitudes when communicating and/ or providing treatment to vulnerable and high
risk women.
2. Violence against Women
Recognize marital rape as a crime, and emphasize the legal protection which would be given to
women in such instances. Strengthen and ensure the efficiency of the women’s help desk in law
enforcing institutions. Ensure that police officers and state officials receive comprehensive
gender sensitivity training. Implement existing mechanisms to protect vulnerable women from
violence which results from post-conflict situations and religious fundamentalism. Eliminate
sexual harassment in the work place and take immediate disciplinary or legal action against
sexual harassers. Recognize cyber violence and Intimate partner violence as forms of Violence
against Women (VAW). Eliminate Discriminatory practices and legal provisions against women
in land and property ownership.

3. Women in Power and Decision Making

Establish an independent women’s commission that would address and ensure women’s rights
with a fair representation of youth. Ensure participation of women in local government as well
as in provincial and national government, by allocating specific quotas for women, including
reserved seats. Provide cabinet ministry portfolios and allocate a specific quota for female
representation in Parliament, including a 25% inclusion in the National List; urge state run
youth bodies such as the Youth Parliament, to have a supportive environment within their
organization to promote participation of women, while also and empowering them by enabling
them to access positions of leadership. Encourage political parties to pledge for a fair
representation of women within their party, including in the executive positions with an
equitable provision for youth representation. Existing national policies and programmes should
be implemented in a manner which is gender responsive and gender friendly. Establish a
women’s desk at District Secretary level. Provide leadership training to assist marginalized and
women living with disabilities, and to ensure that their participation in decision making
platforms will be effective and meaningful.

4. The Girl Child
Eliminate stigma and discrimination faced by young women and girls in all spheres. Create
supportive mechanisms to provide access to education and health services to marginalized girls,
the group of which include but are not limited to people with different physical and mental
abilities, sexual orientation and gender identities, and indigenous young women. Provide and
strengthen uniform community based networking, child-monitoring and a safe support system
for the protection of victims of violence. Ensure that the school and pre-school teacher and
parent training curricula are gender responsive and includes CSE, while additionally instructing
institutions to ensure its programmes and policies are also gender responsive.

1 The Family Health Bureau. (2013). 2 UNFPA Sri Lanka. ICPD@15 Sri Lanka Review. (2009). 3 Sri Lanka Legal Aid Commission. (2011).

The Beijing POA imagines a world where women and girls can exercise their freedom and choices, realize all their rights & participate in decision making meaningfully. IS THIS A REALITY?

Beijing+20 youth review and advocacy training was an eye opener for me in terms of understanding the Beijing Deceleration and Platform for Action and the 12 critical areas of concern. It made not only me but the rest of the participants also who are activists in different related areas understand the content of the document and the remaining recommendations that need to be implemented in Sri Lanka to empower women. The BPFA imagines a world where women and girls can exercise their freedom and choices, realize all their rights and participate in decision making meaningfully. We all know that Beijing process unleashed a great deal of political will, support and visibility that the governments, civil societies and the public and then the governments have translated the platform actions and recommendations where they promised to act accordingly addressing the issues in concern in their individual countries and to bring a solid change.

10989123_10204767284640367_8905046273804848151_n

Looking at the Sri Lankan context I accept that there had been a great improvement in women’s life when looking at certain areas but still it is questionable and debatable with the rise of certain issues and reported incidents whether Sri Lanka is addressing the issues related to women’s life in the correct manner? Is women’s empowerment a reality? Can the recommendations and actions that have been implemented in the sphere of empowering women make them take meaningful decisions? Can they make their own choices without influence? Do they know what a rights based approach is?is?  10994063_10204767335481638_7578097526018582950_n

Looking at women’s and young girls sexual and reproductive health rights it is largely seen and observed that adolescents girls in Sri Lanka don’t have access to necessary healthcare information and services. Trend towards early sexual experiences are combined with the lack of information and services and this increases the risk of unwanted and early pregnancies, HIV and other STIs and also lead to unsafe abortions. These issues that rise because of lack of access for quality SRHR information and services will push them backwards in achieving a range of educational, economical and social statutes and also this won’t give them the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical or mental wellbeing. Another area of concern under health is the attempts that needed to be taken to eliminate unsafe abortions and to deal with the health impacts of unsafe abortions. Under restricted abortion laws still there are more than 750 reported cases of unsafe abortions that take place in Sri Lanka every day. I personally think that this much of cases are reported because there is a loop hole somewhere that needs to be urgently addressed. The lack of knowledge on contraceptives ends up making women vulnerable and then they finally have to get an unsafe, illegal abortion done.

Concerning only this aspect it suggests that Sri Lanka still has a long way to go! More recommendations need to be added and implemented in the grass root level! Certain policies and laws need to be changed! Real actions and policies needed to be implemented to address women’s health! To empower them! To make them realise their rights! To make them take decisions and make choices related to their own bodies!

Lakmini Prabani Perera- Sri Lanka

After Rape, Every Hour Matters

According to Together For Girls, Hundreds of millions of people—including many children—are subjected to sexual violence, yet very few survivors ever tell anyone about the experience or access health services or mental health support to help them heal. Many do not understand the importance of these services or the fact that, after a rape, every hour matters in preventing potentially lifelong health problems. This is an unacceptable reality we must all work together to change.

Why is rapidly accessing care so critical?

  • HIV can be prevented if survivors receive life-saving medication within 72 hours.
  • Emergency contraception can help prevent a pregnancy if accessed within 120 hours.
  • Medical help for physical trauma may be urgently needed depending on the situation.

If you ever need someone to talk to, reach out to a friend. If that is not possible, Sri Lanka has several free professional mental healthcare services, who should be able to guide and help you.

You can reach out to:
Sumithrayo on 0112692909
Shanthi Maargam on 0717639898 or
CCCLine on 1333infographic

Toolkits, infographics, and more resources are available here: Every Hour Matters

50 Schools Commit To SDG Campaign

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50 schools selected for the SDG Action Campaign received financial grants and technical support at an event held in Colombo last Thursday (05 April).

The Campaign for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is led by the UN in Sri Lanka together with the Ministry of Education in partnership with Hatton National Bank and the Presidential Secretariat in an effort to reach out to school students from across the country to design and implement an SDG based project in their communities.

The launch of these Goals, created a landmark moment in creating a much better world without leaving no one behind by 2030. However, achieving these 17 SDGs is everyone’s responsibility.

Speaking about the students’ role in contributing to the SDGs, Secretary to the Ministry of Education, Government of Sri Lanka, Mr. Sunil Hettiarachchi stated, “This student-led campaign shows good potential to serve as an excellent platform to pave a path towards achieving the SDGs in Sri Lanka”.

Since the launch of the campaign on 24 October 2017 commemorating UN Day, over 700 schools submitted their proposals and upon evaluation by the partners of the campaign, 50 SDG-centered proposals were selected representing the 25 Districts of Sri Lanka. These schools will now be linked with relevant experts and institutions, enhancing the students’ capacity to mobilize the communities around to help Sri Lanka achieve the SDGs.

Speaking about the Campaign, Director, ILO Country Office for Sri Lanka and the Maldives and the UN Communications Group Chair., Ms. Simrin Singh stated “Taking action for the SDGs is a collective effort. From the youngest student to the most experienced teacher, schools play an important role in spreading the word that everyone has a responsibility. The question is no longer if you want your classroom to connect to the world; the question now is simply when.”

Engaging youth is vital to Sri Lanka achieving the sustainable development to eradicate poverty, address climate change and build peaceful, inclusive societies for all. These projects will help students raise awareness of the SDGs in their communities and also contribute to the 2030 Agenda. In this regard, ensuring the sustainability of these projects is imperative.

Information and images courtesy of UN Sri Lanka.

Power of Partnership

asapA short report covering the conference to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Asia Safe Abortion Partnership during the 24th and 25th of February 2018.

By Lakmini Prabani.
Cover image credit: ASAP


Day One

The conference was organized to commemorate the 10 years of movement building of Asia Safe Abortion Partnership. It was also to commemorate the power of partnership through celebrating the amazing, dedicated and passionate youth champions and their journeys.

Dr. Unnop Jaismaram made the welcome speech.

Sarah Soysa from YANSL delivered the keynote speech. She emphasized on the undeniable truth that access to safe abortion has a great deal of positive impact on women’s autonomy. She further stressed the need of developing strategies in local contexts to include the right to safe abortion, and the need of building and connecting abortion into the SDGs to ensure social and economic justice. 

Next up, the Yes We Can! panel discussion served as a platform for youth champions from India, Nepal, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The participants reflected on their role as advocates for abortion autonomy agency, and as partners for abortion rights. They also highlighted the work they do through local advocacy networks which are initiated and supported and guided by ASAP.

Priskila Arulpragarasam, also from YANSL, spoke about the work YANSL does as advocates on SRHR, safe abortion rights and gender equality.

Fighting for the good fight for abortion autonomy agency isn’t always an easy road. Sarah moderated the panel discussion “when the going gets tough” where the struggles and challenges of youth champions were discussed. The speakers highlighted that the greatest opposition for abortion they face is patriarchy. They stressed that this could be dismantled through the power of partnership.

Rola from Lebanon emphasized the importance of recognizing the multiple intersectionalities that make people with uteruses vulnerable and to build the right to safe abortion conversation about sexual and reproductive health and rights. Nikzad from Iran stressed that despite abortion being legal in Iran under certain circumstances, many do not have access to it.

Nearly all the speakers reiterated that ensuring abortion autonomy agency was difficult in countries where human rights were under attack.

Srimithi from Nepal highlighted that Nepal is the best example where data proves that maternal mortality rates drop when access for abortion is available and services increase. She also emphasized that young women around the world face the patriarchal expectations of 4Ms which are marriage, motherhood, money and masters.

The conference also shared experiences and true stories of people trying to buy condoms, medical abortion pills and pads from pharmacies in Asia. The stigma attached in accessing such services runs so deep in our societies and especially in areas on gender lines. Tanzila Khan from Pakistan expressed “I can’t by condoms, not because of stigma, fear or shame but because I can’t get into the store. It isn’t wheelchair accessible.”

Anecdotes like this highlighted how important universal healthcare needs to be.

John O Brian from Catholic for Choice said “There are coalitions and then there is hell. Power of partnership is possible only when you avoid the seven deadly sins as avoiding pride, envy, embracing temperance, sharing of resources and diligence.”  

Day Two:

Rola from Lebanon delivered the keynote speech at the 2nd day of the conference, where she emphasised that  hetero-patriarchy should be kept away from an individual’s body.  She also highlighted the importance of merging LGBTIQ movements, class movements, and abortion movements in order to be able to strenthen partnership and create a more powerful impact.

The session on intergenerational mentorship looked at how mentorship works within countries and among youth champions.

YANSL’s Prabani Perera pointed out how ASAP supported and guided youth champions who now work towards achieving safe abortion rights in both national and international platforms. She added that ASAP assisted YANSL in capacity building, related to technical, financial, and advocacy skills to push the agenda of reproductive justice and gender equality. Speaking further, she elaborated on how YANSL initiated a mentorship programme thanks to funding received by the Women’s Fund Asia.

The striggles and barriers Sri Lankans face in trying to legalise abortion, was addressed by Dr. Kapila Jayarathne.

At the panel discussion on Doctors as agents of change, the discussion looked at the conscience, access and life and the important role that medical students could play as safe abortion rights advocates. There also was a panel discussion where it talked about whether the men can be feminists. John O Brian emphasized that “feminist isn’t label, feminist is what we have to do and that’s really what matters to me. That I stand up against justice and oppression at every level.”

The conference declaration was delivered by Sarah, Yu Yang from China, and Niksad from Iran.

The conference concludes with one message from the youth champions which gives us all hope and courage to continue fighting this battle.

“I am not a liberal snowflake. My feelings aren’t fragile. My heart isn’t bleeding. I am a badass believer in human rights. My toughness is in tenderness. My strength is in the service of others. There is nothing fiercer than formidable, unconditional love. There is not a thing more courageous than compassion. But if my belief in equity, empathy goodness and love indeed makes me or people like me snowflakes, then you should know winter is coming.”

 

Body Talk: Engaging People During #IWD2018.

On International Women’s Day (IWD) earlier this month, Youth Advocacy Network Sri Lanka joined The MJF Charitable Foundation’s IWD celebrations, and had a day of education, fun, and games with the children there.

The MJF Charitable Foundation was established in January 2003 with the objective of utilizing revenue from sales of Dilmah Tea, in implementing charitable projects designed to uplift communities and individuals who are considered marginalized or underprivileged. The IWD celebration was held the their MJF Centre in Moratuwa, with their project beneficiaries. This half-day event was open and free for the public, and had various activities including a movie screening, therapy sessions, art sessions, a medical clinic, legal corner and a counseling corner.

We conducted a session on body talk for kids from ages 10 – 16 years and an interactive quiz on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.  Overall, there were approximately 150 people at the event, with most of the participants being young people between the ages of 10-16, and their mothers.

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Parents were not around for the body talk session and it was intentional to make sure kids can engage freely and raise questions. Sexual harassment and harassment in general in public transport was something funny for many boys present and they haven’t thought about the aspect of respect in it. Most of them openly talked about asking for phone numbers from girls in buses.

We observed that many of the girls were silent and shy to speak up, despite listening closely to everything being discussed. Whenever they DID speak, they didn’t maintain eye-contact at any given point. Some of the boys tended to dominate the conversation, and many of them were aware of the physical changes they were going through as teenagers. Some even had a brief knowledge of their hormonal changes.We had an interesting time talking to kids about good touch and bad touch, respect, consent and their experiences with adults. While many of them knew that a number existed to report abuse, they didn’t remember the National Child Protection Authority’s hotline, 1929.

To get people engaged in other activities we organized, we asked them to come forward and try hit hanging balloons with darts to be eligible for the quiz. While the kids took over the place by storm simply for the action and win some goodies, it was interesting to see how some of their parents participated much later on, after listening to how their children responded to our questions of rights, protection, and health.

Trailblazers: Sri Lanka’s Young Planetary Scientist

How many planetary scientists would you have heard of? Especially if they’re female AND Sri Lankan to boot? Not many, we bet!

The World Bank Country Director recently pointed out that despite many women in pursuing higher studies in Sri Lanka, very few of them are in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

Likewise, the 2010 National Science Foundation (NSF) handbook highlights that from over 2000 full-time researchers in Sri Lanka, only 31% of them were female.

It is in such an environment that we have our first female planetary scientist who’s based in Sri Lanka: Hiruni Senerath Dassanayake!

An alumnus of the Buffalo State University of New York, Hiruni spent 08 weeks in the USA mapping a section of Mars. She also presented her research at the 2015 Geological Society of America’s (GSA) annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

Hiruni is currently engaged in her Global Mars Project, and with research focusing on studying water-related geology on Mars.

Being a planetary scientist in Sri Lanka isn’t easy. “Not only in terms of resources, but also in terms of equity and exposure. It’s very challenging….I’m the only planetary scientist based in Sri Lanka with my specific research and education/outreach interest,” she said.


We’re all about celebrating exemplary women and under-represented people. If you have any stories you’d like to share, please feel free to reach out to us through our social media channels on Facebook and Twitter (@YANSrilanka), or comment here.