We Hear You: Kicking Off The Project

 

Sample 01-01.jpgEarlier this year, the Youth Advocacy Network secured a grant from the British Council under the Promoting ‘Voices & Choices’ for Women and Girls in Sri Lanka initiative to provide life skills education through tools and interfaces for girls at Ceylon School for the Deaf in Ratmalana.

Having received the green-light for the project in March, we initially focused on identifying the specific needs of the teachers and students in the school in order to find the relevant tools to bridge the communication gap. Through our interventions we expect that the students will receive a better understanding of their personal hygiene, equality, respect and human rights, as well as help them express themselves better.

As we’ve mentioned before, 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.

WhatsApp Image 2018-07-06 at 6.37.45 PMJust last week, we completed the introductory sessions to the staff, and had focus group discussions with them.

WhatsApp Image 2018-07-06 at 6.35.43 PM

Linked to empowering women and girls, the expected outcome of this project is to:

  • Enhance knowledge and skills of young girls (50 adolescent girls) with hearing disabilities on Personal Hygiene, Relationships and Respect, Equality and Human Rights.
  • Increase sense of self-confidence in girls with hearing disabilities to make informed choices over their bodies, health and lives.
  • Creating a safe platform for girls with hearing disabilities to have a dialogue about their health and rights using sign language.
  • Develope a systematized hub containing tools, interfaces and materials on above topics made accessible using sign language for young girls with hearing disabilities.
  • Develop sensitivity and capacities of teachers and health instructors working in Ratmalana deaf school built on the above topics

Further details regarding the sign language glossary can be found here:

http://beta.dailymirror.lk/opinion/birds-and-bees-info-for-those-with-functional-difficulties/172-100393

and here:

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/160103/plus/glossary-of-sign-words-for-sexual-and-reproductive-health-launched-176839.html

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We Stand Together: In Solidarity With Women Everywhere.

A statement by the Solidarity Alliance for the Right to Safe Abortion, a Global South alliance of six civil society organisations committed to realising the right to safe abortion for all women. 

On 25 May 2018, Irish voters cast their vote in a referendum to decide on whether or not to repeal the Eighth Amendment (Article 40.3.3) of the Irish constitution, which makes abortion illegal by giving equal rights to the unborn.[i] Since 1983 when this amendment was voted in, it has created a highly restrictive environment for safe abortion in Ireland. It has resulted in many women seeking abortions resorting to alternative and costly means.[ii] The existing law allows abortions only when the life of the mother is in danger while accessing illegal abortions can result in imprisonment up to 14 years.[iii]

Between 1980 and 2016, at least over 170,000 women and girls from Ireland sought abortions in other countries. The UK was the destination of choice for a majority of these women, where over 3000 women have accessed abortions in the UK in 2016 alone, a number that is believed to be an underestimation.[iv]

In Ireland, cases such as the Savita Halappanavar, who died due to complications of a septic miscarriage show the urgency for change.[v] Savita, among others, was refused an abortion on request because she was already 17 weeks pregnant and her life was not deemed in threat by doctors.[vi]

Various human rights treaties and consensus documents, have recognised that couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly decide when, how and with whom to get pregnant, have the information and means to do so and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They have the right to do so free of discrimination, coercion and violence.[vii]

Pro-life arguments position the zygote, embryo or foetus equal to women thereby curtailing her sexual and reproductive health and rights and her ability to make autonomous decisions regarding her fertility.[viii] Denying women access to safe abortion information and services, generally through legal restriction, is another breach of human rights.[ix]

In countries where abortion is legal, available and provided under medical supervision, it is an extremely safe medical procedure with minimum morbidity and insubstantial risk of death.[x] Global abortion trends suggest that the number of women seeking abortion does not decrease with a restrictive legal system, such as in Ireland. In fact, these women resort to seeking an unsafe abortion or opting for illegal means, which are mostly unsafe.[xi] This not only endangers women health due to life-threatening complications arising from unsafe abortion but also has grave repercussions in terms of the financial burden to health systems that are associated with it.[xii] Moreover, compelling women to undergo life-threatening abortion procedures undermine women’s right to health and life and constitutes gender discrimination.[xiii]

The Solidarity for the Right to Safe Abortion calls for:

  • Repealing the Eight Amendment unconditionally.
  • A removal of restrictive laws and policies that prevent the right to safe abortion and minimise quality and safe abortion services as well as restrict women and girls’ access to safe abortion services.
  • A recognition of women’s right to safe abortion as a human right by all parties concerned.
  • Guarantees and protection of all women’s right to life, health, freedom from discrimination, bodily integrity and autonomy.
  • Guarantees of universal access to affordable health care, including sexual and reproductive healthcare services to ensure that women and girls have access and can afford the care they need.
  • Universal access to contraceptive services, including emergency contraception, of high quality and variety, is user friendly and appropriate to the needs of women, including young women.

Endorsed by members of the Solidarity Alliance for the Right to Safe Abortion

  • Beyond Beijing Committee (BBC), Nepal
  • CommonHealth and ally SAHAJ Vadodara, India
  • Naripokkho, Bangladesh
  • Association for Prevention of Septic Abortions Bangladesh (BAPSA), Bangladesh
  • Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia (RHAC), Cambodia
  • Women’s Global Network on Reproductive Rights (WGNRR), the Philippines

Original statement can be found here.

Saturday Church: Movie Screening and Discussion!

On the first Sunday of May, the Youth Advocacy Network had a limited-seating movie screening, followed by a discussion. The movie was Saturday Church, which tells the story of 14-year-old Ulysses, a shy and effeminate boy, who finds himself coping with new responsibilities as “man of the house” after the death of his father.

The event went smoothly, with about 15 people present.

Discussions after the movie were animated as attendees compared it to Sri Lankan contexts. We discussed how Saturday Church (the place) would work in a Sri Lankan context and also how the movie could have depicted sexuality a little better.

We also discussed how LGBTIQ people just want to be loved, accepted and desired sexually sometimes, more than anything else, and of how predators can come in any shape, age, and form. The scene depicting an apparently kindly, middle-aged man offering the protagonist a meal and clothes, and then sexually exploiting him, was used as an example.

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.