Hi, and welcome to #TalkbackTuesday. This week’s interview is with Ms. Kamani Jinadasa. See her interview below.
Talkback Tuesday is a weekly interview with everyday people. It is always inspirational to look into the life of another person, and realize it is just as complex and large and confusing as your own.
1. For the readers, who are you, what do you do, and what is your current side project?
So I’m a lawyer and I work as a consultant in Gender Based Violence (GBV). I currently work for the World Bank, Sri Lanka Office.
I also do volunteer work – I provide legal support to people living with HIV, and I have started my own organization called Shanthi Maargam (@ShanthiMaargamSL) to improve the emotional well being of youth.
2. Tell me about Shanthi Maargam. What comes under the umbrella of emotional well-being, and what is the most pressing issue that you are currently working on?
Shanthi Maargam was born out the need to find ways to prevent violence against women and girls. A few years ago, I headed the largest research in Sri Lanka among men to understand their attitudes and behaviours towards women and GBV (http://www.partners4prevention.org/resource/broadening-gender-why-masculinities-matter).
Being involved in this research was a real eye opener. The statistics showed that men who had experienced or witnessed violence in their childhood were more likely to perpetrate violence, including intimate partner violence, in their adulthood. I have been working in the field of Masculinities and working with men to reduce Violence against Women and Girls and for me, this felt like a very important place to break the cycle of violence – to provide psychosocial services to young boys.
Even though I pushed the idea with many organizations, they were reluctant to pursue it. My friends seeded the idea that I should do this myself. At the time, I was living in New York and I had access to some amazing people working in this field. They encouraged me and I was able to read up a lot around this issue. Given also that Sri Lanka is a post war country and we have high suicide rates, we still have such a huge taboo around dealing with and talking about mental health.
Even though I pushed the idea with many organizations, they were reluctant to pursue it. My friends seeded the idea that I should do this myself.
I wanted to create a place which provided holistic healing for boys as well as girls – through counseling, art and drama therapy. [I wanted to] Provide them with skills to manage their emotions through meditation, yoga and karate, as well as have a safe space for them to discuss topics that are relevant to them such as relationships, bullying, educational stress, sexual and reproductive health, child abuse etc.
It’s a place which I want to be inclusive for all youth – LGBTQ, PLHIV*, children with disabilities etc. Currently, the main group of youth who visit our center are from the neighbouring slums, and the most pressing issue is substance abuse.
A/N: *Person/People Living with HIV
3. You said you work for the World Bank. What challenges do you face working for such a large and important organization, and what accomplishments give you the most pride in your work?
The main challenge is trying to make people understand how gender is a cross cutting issue. The bulk of my work is around providing technical advice around gender and showing how gender needs should be addressed in large projects. I am still a little new to this role, so I don’t have any major accomplishments in this area.
But in my previous consultancies with UNFPA – working with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to develop the National Action Plan to address Women Headed Households has been fantastic.
In one area, being able to push the government to to incorporate some progressive actions in it was so satisfying and I learned so much in the meantime too. During this consultancy, I also worked with the National Child Protection Authority to develop National Guidelines on Implementing Child Protection Programmes. These also included some progressive actions, so it’s been lovely to be able to influence organizations which have a national impact.
I must say though what gave me the most pride in my work was getting the above report out as it is such an important study for Sri Lanka- to understand the multi layered nature of violence and to help people understand that men mostly hurt others as they are in pain too.
I worked with the National Child Protection Authority to develop National Guidelines on Implementing Child Protection Programmes. …it’s been lovely to be able to influence organizations which have a national impact.
My team at Care International (which I worked with at the time) were very dynamic and we managed to get so many stakeholders involved in understanding men, youth issues and the health impact of GBV and what could be done about it. Our team also did lots of creative things like Forum Theatre, Training of trainers in Male Engagement for Gender Justice, establishment of Youth Networks etc. Too many things to list here about that work – but I loved the work and my team.
In my legal work for PLHIV, we appeared for a landmark case in the Supreme Court to secure the education rights of a child who was being denied education as his parents were HIV positive. That was super, and we laid the groundwork for more cases.
Another one that we’re working on now: to secure the right to employment for a PLHIV who was fired from an MNC for being HIV positive. We managed to get an order where the Sri Lankan government recognized the rights of PLHIV and that the government has the responsibility to address their needs – this is a first not only in Sri Lanka, but South Asia too.
We appeared for a landmark case in the Supreme Court to secure the education rights of a child who was being denied education as his parents were HIV positive.
4. Incredible. So as a goal-oriented and a socially aware person, what are three gender-driven myths/beliefs you would like to dispel?
- That gender work also includes addressing the needs and vulnerabilities of men and transgender people,
That we need to really work with youth as the next generation of our country and recognize them as those with agency and help address their GBV, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Mental Health needs – all are intertwined.
Gender base violence impacts everyone.
I’m afraid I have a 4th one too – that all people who work in the field of GBV are not man haters!
5. Great. Finally, do you have anything you’d like the audience to explore? It can be a business or movement, or it could be anything from a video to an idea.
I would want people to spend more time on exploring their own vulnerabilities and their spirituality as well.
Spend more time “living” than “existing” (working like a dog for work) and breathe for their souls. It’s such an important anchor and so crucial for deeper happiness, not only for an individual but for the entire world.
We need more people to be at peace with themselves and be in “places” where they are in love – in love with the world and everything around them. Then the world will be a much more loving and peaceful place.
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Next, check out the previous interview from last Tuesday with Sanjeeta Shah by clicking on the image below.