Working Together for Prosperity

Weerakoon Banda and his wife now earn more and share each other's workloads. Photograph: Oxfam.

Weerakoon Banda is a paddy farmer who had previously believed that his sole responsibility was to provide for the family, as head of the household, while his wife took care of all the other familial responsibilities, including caring for their two children and performing household duties. And that belief had influenced the household’s division of labour for much of their married life up until the time he sat in at a Rapid Care Analysis (RCA) workshop held in his village in 2015 by Project Direct’s partner, Affected Women’s Forum (AWF).

Balancing Carework and Income Generation  

“Before I took part in RCA workshop, I never helped my wife with household chores,” Banda says. “But, after the RCA workshop, I started helping my wife by sharing not just household work, but also tending to the milk cows, which is my wife’s income generation activity.”

Because of the post-RCA reconfiguration of the household’s division of labour between Banda and his wife, Banda’s wife now has more time to look after her 30 milk cows. Banda now gives a helping hand to his wife to improve her income generating activity by taking the cattle for grazing, helping her to milk them, and taking curd they make out of milk to shops in town. The impact of Banda’s personal transformation and rearrangement of their duties and tasks equally, both care work and income generation, has been remarkable. They have increased the income from milk cow raising to 30,000LKR, which is double the amount that his wife made working on her own.

“As the income from milk cows has doubled, we decided to buy a lorry on a lease,” Banda says. “We pay a monthly installment of 19,000LKR for the lease. We use the lorry to transport curd we produce. Some of the income is also used for cultivation. We grow bananas and vegetables, too.”

Banda’s is not an isolated experience, and the village of Sirimangalapura seen many in recent months. Lakshman Rathnasiri who used to work as a spray-painter in Colombo decided to leave his job. He joined his wife to run her ornamental plants business, which she did on her own on a very small scale. And the economic benefit of his decision has proven to be rewarding.

“Now our monthly income is 60,000LKR. Earlier it used to be 15,000LKR,” Rathnasiri says. “Recently we bought a small lorry to transport plants. My decision to help improve my wife’s business and help her in all household duties and responsibilities is a result of my participation in the RCA workshop. I learnt that men did not appreciate the valuable contributions  women can make.”

Altogether 35 men and women from Sirimangalapura attended the initial RCA workshop conducted by the Affected Women’s Forum. Together men and women learnt about the prevailing dynamics relating to care work in a rural setting such as theirs, and how men can help ease the burden of care work on women, in a bid to raise their economic productivity. Based on the issues, views, and responses that arose in Sirimangalapura and many other villages in both Trincomalee and Batticaloa district, the AWF developed a basic leaflet to raise community awareness on women’s care work and her economic productivity and potential. After taking part in the RCA awareness process, men in Sirimangalapura realized the role they can play in improving women’s economic productivity by sharing mundane and unpaid household work.  Consequently, their attitudes towards a woman’s role in caregiving began to change.

“We learnt a lot from RCA awareness raising sessions,” Banda says. “We learnt about a woman’s economic productivity and economic potential, unpaid care work women do and how they affect women’s economic productivity. We now understand how men can help enhance a woman’s economic productivity, how to ease the burden of care work for women and how to help her to improve her income activities. We realized men needed to change their attitudes and help women.”

Stronger Together: Community Benefits from Participatory Action

While making changes at the household level, men in Sirimangalapura also decided to go a step further to channel their raised awareness to improve service delivery to their community through a collective and inclusive decision-making process: they organized themselves as a group under the name Community Resources Protection and Enhancement (CRPE). CRPE now meets once a month to discuss issues that affect their wider village community.

“The idea to organize ourselves as a group came when our women faced a battle with the local officials who decided to relocate the pre-school in our village to another place due to floods,” Wickramasinghe says. “We filled up the pre-school land with earth to raise the ground. But the pre-school did not come back to its original place after the floods. Teachers and Gramasevaka all preferred the new place. We don’t because it is far from the village and is just a common community hall without space for a play area. We decided to help raise our women’s voice against the preschool’s relocation by forming CRPE.”

Lakshman Wickramasinghe further explained how Sirimangalapura had missed out on some key development projects because of their inaction and lack of organization as a community collective to advocate for better services. Inspired by the transformation that the village was undergoing as a result of women’s enhanced economic productivity, CRPE decided to utilize its collective voice to resolve some of the menacing social issues that affected the overall well-being and productivity of the village community.

“We worked with our women to raise awareness about the effects of alcoholism and violence against women,” Sanjeewa says. “We already knew how to respond to reduce such issues because of RCA and male champion training that we underwent. As a result of our activism, alcoholism has subsided significantly. Violence and abuse against women and children are not widespread. And we will move on to address other issues such as lack of irrigation water and illegal cutting of trees for firewood because of lack of alternative income activities.”

CPRE members want to register their group as a community-based organization. As for government’s requirement, they have to wait two more years for registration. Until then, they plan to build on their community service activism by connecting with local service providers- both government and non-government. In the past, most men, like Janaka Sanjeewa used to send their wives or mothers to CBO meetings as they did not have the time or believe that men’s participation in CBO meetings was important.

“We never went for meetings,” Sanjeewa says. “We always sent women. Men were busy doing their livelihood activities and led their lives isolated from the community. But that has changed. We are eager to get services to our village by establishing links with service providers. We will continue to advocate local officials and other service providers to develop our village.”

Projects Direct has empowered women and men in Sirimangalapura by raising awareness and building their capacity with knowledge and resources provision. Men and women in the village have evidently used what they deem as “a rare opportunity” to achieve prosperity and well-being at both personal and community level.