‘Meet a member’ is a regular feature in the global MenEngage Alliance newsletter. This month we speak to Samitha Sugathimala (pronouns: she/her), Program Director at: Foundation for Innovative Social Development and co-convener of MenEngage Alliance in Sri Lanka and current global Co-Chair of MenEngage Alliance.
What do you work on?
I give overall direction to the three thematic areas that we work on at FISD:
- gender and development/prevention of sexual and gender based violence;
- child rights protection and promotion; and
- prevention of alcohol and drug abuse.
Specifically, I provide the overall vision and develop the organizational strategy for gender justice and sexual and gender based violence. I represent many local, national, regional and global forums on gender justice and engaging men and boys for gender justice work.
How did you get involved in this work?
I have been an activist on women’s and girls rights since my early university days. The challenges I faced as a girl—both within and outside my family—led me to reflect on the patriarchal social system which creates a very unsafe and vulnerable situation for women and girls.
I hated the powerless, self-blaming narratives of women in my life. I wanted to be part of a process that could change those narratives and be a strength to women and girls.
While working on gender based violence issues in the early 2000s, thousands of women expressed the need to work with men in their families. So, I started to connect with existing programs which engaged men and boys more effectively.
Why do you think it is important to do gender justice work with men and boys?
Further talking from my own experience in this field for more than 18 years, I strongly believe in the need for engaging men and boys for effective gender justice work. By challenging traditional gender norms and encouraging respectful behaviors, we can create allies who join in the reflective process to dismantle patriarchal power and privilege that lead to inequality and gender based violence.
By calling for policy reforms, awareness campaigns, collaboration, we can push forward a movement that reshapes our societies, dismantles biases, and paves the way for a more equitable future.
Is there an initiative you are proud of that you would like to share?
I am proud of this reflective journal for adolescents. It guides them through a process to reflect on their vulnerabilities—as well as the power and privileges that affect their lives.
I am also proud of our work towards self-care for women, and self- care for men which helps create more accountability among men. You can see more about it in the videos we produced. And I would also like to share this handbook on the community empowerment model for prevention of sexual and gender based violence.
What keeps you motivated in this work?
When a deep-seated personal connection for gender equality and violence prevention exists, harnessing that passion is invigorating. By envisioning the positive changes that our work can bring to individuals and communities, motivation remains resilient. I also believe that stories of change serve as a continuous source of motivation.
You are never finished learning in this work. Participating in educational opportunities to update my knowledge and skills is another source of motivation.
I also believe in mindfulness and reflection. Recognizing that our work contributes to a more equitable and safer global society makes the motivation powerful and enduring.
What do you hope we can achieve together as an Alliance that we cannot do as individual organizations?
My own journey as an activist has shown me that collaboration is paramount in all our work on gender justice. By working alongside organizations, policymakers, survivors, and allies, we can amplify our impact and create a unified front against gender-based violence and discrimination.
I am proud to be a part of the MenEngage network because it offers a unique and vital platform for sharing best practices, learning from one another, and amplifying our impact on a global scale. Engaging with like-minded individuals and organizations fosters a sense of community and shared purpose.
An inspiring quote that you would like to share?
“If you have come here to help me, you’re wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound with mine, let us work together.” – Lila Watson, Aboriginal activist
Is there a part of the Ubuntu Declaration and Call to Action that resonates with you?
I am a strong believer of the path that the Ubuntu Declaration and Call to Action suggests towards inclusion, equity and justice, and a sustainable social economic order based on care, responsibility and accountability. The most important aspect that resonates with me specifically is based on inner work. Unless and until we create spaces for people to reflect, understand, come to terms and heal in a very empathetic manner, it is challenging to inspire and sustain personal transformation.