Despite all odds: climate resilient women in Sri Lanka

By Anuradha Withanachchi is a UN Youth Volunteer in Knowledge Management, as a part of the Climate Change Adaptation Project II at UNDP Sri Lanka

Time and time again, it has been proven that inclusion of women in development dialogues is essential to sustainable development. And it’s even more so relevant to Sri Lanka, as we battle the biggest existential threat that we’ve faced to date—climate change. It’s no secret that women play a significant yet unrecognized and an underestimated role in the country’s mainstay, the agricultural sector. From preparation work like land clearing, tilling to planting and the latter stages of production work like post processing to livestock production and home gardening.

Women have a hand in the production process from day one in addition to their household and family responsibilities, which means the effects of climate change, put the livelihoods and resources that they are involved in and depend on at most risk.

Adverse effects of climate change in Sri Lanka

This is why 90% of the beneficiaries of the Climate Change Adaptation Project, implemented in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme, the World Food Programme, the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, through the Adaptation Fund, are women. The project is currently active in the locations Walapane in Nuwara Eliya, and Lankapura and Medirigiriya in Polonnaruwa, due to their extreme vulnerability to the adverse impact of climate change. These women solely depend on farming for their livelihood and yet the changing weather patterns make it more and more difficult to make their livelihoods sustainable.

Women at the forefront

Today, through the intervention of the project, these women are taking on new initiatives in the apparel, handloom, handicrafts and processed food production industry. With the limited resources they have and with the input from the experts of the project, these women are now part of 40 community based enterprises across Walapane, Lankapura and Medirigiriya. Not only will they have gained insights into the production processes and diversified and climate resilient farming methods, they will also have new opportunities of employment and thereby economic stability through climate resilient livelihoods. Empowering women to be leaders and decision makers, through these enterprises, these women will also be at the forefront of the managerial process with the acquired technological and entrepreneurial skills.

Darshani, who is one of the women now part of the garment and textile production social enterprise in Walapane says that they have never received such an opportunity to have their own source of income before. “A majority of the community here are impoverished. Many other single parents like myself take care of our parents and children by ourselves. We barely make a living by taking on small day-to-day sewing work. The only other option we had was to find a job in Colombo, which would mean leaving our children behind to fend for themselves and this is not something I want for my family."Now, being a part of this enterprise has opened new avenues of income for me and I am so grateful."

Capitalizing on their talents

Along with Darshani, 150 women in Walapane have received training on textile production, entrepreneurship, and professional certification from the Sri Lanka Institute of Textile and Apparel and the National Enterprise Development Authority. They have also been supported with the necessary machinery and infrastructure through the project.

“We have never had an opportunity to capitalize on our talents before. Although we knew how to sew, these trainings have given us new ideas and designs to work with” -- Darshani.

Sustainable livelihoods

Another intervention focusing on providing rural women with a sustainable livelihood is the Hela Bojun outlet in Walapane. Executed in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, the outlet in Serupitiya on the Kandy-Mahiyanganaya road has been a roaring success, providing both tourists and locals fresh delicious traditional food. Ayomi, who is a vendor and the manager of this outlet says that getting this opportunity of employment has made a big difference in the lives of 50 women, including herself.

Meanwhile in Lankapura, Wimala, who stocks and supplies organic fruits and vegetables to a farmer’s market in the area says “the intermediaries that we sold our produce to got increasingly rich while we were left behind with very little income. Now with the market in place, we are able to sell our organic produce directly to the community. We also now able to better maintain our home gardens."

These are just a few examples of the women who are at the forefront of our initiatives through the Climate Change Adaptation Project.

Think equal, build smart and innovate for change 

It’s time we recognized the efforts of these women who face the brunt of the adverse effects of changing climate. Despite all odds, their resilience and determination to succeed for themselves and their families is truly inspiring. It’s time we acknowledged the contribution these women make to our economy and society at large.

Next time you visit such a startup enterprise, take a minute to embrace the hard work these women put in day in and day out - the long nights, the labored hours and yet they are always with a smile. It’s time we supported them in their daily strive, so they can improve their quality of life!

This blog was first published by UNDP Sri Lanka here.

Last Updated: 19 Mar 2019