Global Voices in Environment: Gearing Up For Change

Vositha Wijenayake talks about the need for women in South Asia to actively participate in the development sector:

Vositha Wijenayake is the Policy and Advocacy Coordinator for Climate Action Network (CAN) South Asia, and the Regional Facilitator for Asia for Southern Voices on Adaptation, a programme focusing on bringing civil society actors as a key stakeholder in policies related to climate change and adaptation. She has an LLM from University College London, and an LLB from Queen Mary, University of London. A lawyer by profession and Co Chair CAN Legal Working Group, she specializes in international environmental law, refugee law, and UN human rights law. Her areas of focus include UNFCCC and SDG processes, climate migration, climate change adaptation, gender and human rights. The SEWEGAP (SEPLAA Empowering Women for Economic Growth & Peace) Team recently held a detailed discussion with her about the role of women in international development and the challenges and opportunities that await them.

Q. Women all over the world have both opportunities and challenges to face, however, given the culture and traditions of this region, what, in your opinion, are the major challenges faced by the women of South Asia?

As women in South Asia, I think we face a few obstacles. One is with the identity our society or families have for us, and the identity we try to create for us. Sometimes we are left a bit alienated with the identity we want for ourselves, and then we think we should choose for ourselves. This could be an issue faced by many women in many developing countries.

Q. No one can deny the importance of education, however when it comes to educating girls, society still does not consider it equally important. What is your opinion in this matter?

Education plays a key role in allowing women to make choices. I have been to the North of Sri Lanka where I have met women my age, with children of my son’s age and even a few more who are elder to him. They are single parents or widows with husbands having left them or gone missing. Looking at the choices in life they have, and the vulnerability they have, I felt that it was my education that allowed me to be independent as I could be, make choices and believe that I could plan a future for myself and my son, being a single parent. So the development sector should play a main role in promoting education.

Q. What opportunities do you think are out there for women who want to contribute to the society?

There are opportunities out there for committed and dedicated women who are able to identify a cause
that they are interested in. This could be something very specific, like against child marriages, or it could
be something generic like social equality, or even climate change which would overlap with many issues.

Q.What suggestion would you like to give to women who would want to join the development sector?

For women who would like to get into the development sector, there are many opportunities. But the roles might not be specifically defined. The funding sometimes comes for small scale projects, and the staff in the organisations need to be capable to adapt and play multiple roles to suit the needs. I might be a lawyer, but I would be playing the role of a communications person, project manager to ensure that we work for the cause. The more you are flexible, and multi-disciplinary, the better the chances that you would be able to develop a career in the development sector at the national or grassroot level. However, this could be different when we are talking of the big logos of the NGO field, but being multi-disciplinary always help.

Q.What message would you like to give to women who want to join the development sector?

It is a good thing to see women like you who have a family, children, working in the field of development and contributing to great changes. It is difficult to be fully engaged with work, all the travel that sometimes we do for work, to ensure that our family life, personal life is intact. So it is very important for those who like to engage in the field to see role models like you, to assure them that there is a life for someone in the development sector as well.

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