Women Brand for Change

I have a brand name now”, Sivajini said proudly.

We, the society, whether it is men or women, are very clever in branding people. Branding is defined as the process involved in ‘creating a unique name and an image for a product in the consumers’ mind’. Even if the people are ‘products’, society creates products among people based on their sex category, economic status, ethnicity and religion, etc. Gender is the best example for it. The society, based on their social values and politics, define men and women differently, placing them at different layers of status, and giving them different level of power and roles. Branding is not only worth for the product, more on it, the iconic ‘self branding’ is worth for the people; especially for women, as it holds their goal and promise, express their identity, and show their journey towards success.

Sivajini, is a twenty-nine year old mother born during the thirty years war period, had experienced multiple displacements. After having gone through hardships caused by war effects and life’s turmoil, she had settled down in Puthukkudiyiruppu, in the north of Sri Lanka. With her husband who is a mechanic, and her second daughter, the family live in a small house situated in a permit land given to her by the Government. The couple had lost their eldest daughter when the child was three in 2009 when they were living in a welfare centre as displaced persons. Today, Sivajini’s only hope and strength is her second daughter, whom she cares for a lot.

Being an energetic woman, Sivajini was keen to make money besides to what her husband was earning. To fulfil her desire, she engaged in preparing different varieties of snacks [murukku, and few more] with the knowledge received from her mother-in-law. Sivajini began selling the eatables to shops in the towns surrounding her home. She also carried some items to Chavakachcheri in the Jaffna district, to be sold at her mother-in-law’s shop. This initiative of Sivajini made her earn extra money which ranged from 5000 – 6000 Sri Lankan rupees monthly. “Because of my small business, I am now able to provide employment to two widows; they assist me with my work; I even pay them 8000 rupees per month”, stated Sivajini with smiles.

After cycling miles away on a bicycle to carry her products for selling, today Sivajini uses her own motorcycle for the same purpose. She has even increased the varieties and number of her products, and expanded her business towards other divisions and districts of the north. And today, her monthly income through this business is around 40,000 Sri Lankan rupees.

The brutal armed conflicts destroyed everything including hope and enthusiasm of the people. Many women like Sivajini are seen in the society today who needs additional support, to gear up their lives once again. Every woman in the north does not have the openings or the means to involve in initiatives of their own. They need encouragement and support from different stakeholders – government, non-government institutions, international organizations, civil societies, etc.

Recently the Agro Economic Development Project of the UNDP has come forward to support needy people in the area. Many young men and women have received assistance from this project of the UNDP, and Tharshini too is one of them.

Thirty-nine years of age and separated from her husband, Tharshini is a mother for a eight year old boy. Living in the worst war affected areas of the north in Mullaitivu, she works in a rice mill earning a meagre salary of Sri Lankan rupees 10,500.

My husband left me for another woman; I am struggling hard to feed my son and elderly mother. My husband did not only take away my dignity, but also the only owning that I               had – my milking buffaloes”, stated Tharshini.

Today Tharshini has received an opportunity to work for the Mullaitivu Livestock Breeders Cooperative Society Ltd that is supported by the UNDP. Here she not only earns more than 15,000 rupees monthly, but also has a safe and confident work environment. “This is what I bought with my savings; it helps to ease my work” said Tharshini pointing towards her new motorbike. The confidence and contentment seen in Tharshini explains the importance of economy stability for women.

Situational poverty can be seen in this post – conflict era.  It is essential to take special measures to bring the life of the people to normalcy, and eventually lead them towards social justice approaches in poverty eradication. Improving of the human condition and social position, and enabling their environment are the core features of the social justice approach. Elimination of gender inequalities and economic empowerment and increasing of access for economic activities are to be done to gain social justice.  Recognizing of women and their potentials, facilitating them with technical, financial and strategic support are evidence based interventions.

Kanmani | Sri Lanka