March 12, 2024

Capturing “Herspectives”: Amplifying Women’s Voices on Reconciliation and Social Cohesion

Sri Lanka Barometer

This blog captures the key discussion points from SLB's women's discussion forum "Herspectives", held on 29th February 2024 to amplify women's voices and understand gendered perspectives on reconciliation and social cohesion in Sri Lanka.

On the 29th of February, the Sri Lanka Barometer (SLB) hosted a women’s discussion forum titled “Herspectives”. It was conducted to amplify women’s voices and provide a dedicated space for women to share their experiences and knowledge, as well as to gain insights into gendered perspectives on reconciliation and social cohesion to further inform SLB work. The event hosted 32 women from diverse backgrounds, including media, academia, private sector, and civil society. The women’s discussion forum also served as a pilot for similar events in the future, where the SLB would provide the platform for groups with common interests to come together in providing perspectives to reconciliation and social cohesion in Sri Lanka.

At the event, participants were first introduced to the Sri Lanka Barometer, and thereafter, moderated through discussions pertaining to four Barometer domains; dealing with the past, active citizenship, equal opportunity, and security and wellbeing. They were informed of 2021 and 2022 Barometer findings related to the discussion items and were encouraged to share their insights on ground-level realities. The following are the key discussion points of the event.

1. Memorialisation culture in Sri Lanka

It was established through the 2021 SLB finding that memorialisation is important to Sri Lankans as underscored by a mean score of 7.25 at the national level. The discussion began with participants views on the nature of and access to memorialisation in Sri Lanka.

Memorialisation can take place either in a structured manner or organically. Structured memorialisation can refer to the dedication of a specific day for commemorating the lost or commemorating “Hero’s Day”. It is also seen in the establishment of public spaces for remembering loved ones, e.g. acquiring rights to paint a public bus stand in honour of their loved ones. Whereas, organic memorialisation is more sporadic and can be driven by religious customs, family traditions, and as most often seen in Sri Lanka, the pursuit for justice and accountability for loved ones lost in various conflicts and their aftermath.

In both cases, there seems to be a gendered aspect to  memorialisation. For instance, memorialisation can be viewed as inherently gendered, often being seen as led by wives and mothers. Furthermore, one participant pointed out that customarily, it is women who carry the emotional and domestic burden of memorialising within the home.

Discussing the role of politics and media in memorialisation, it was recognised that although women have been granted space for memorialisation in Sri Lanka, barriers are faced mostly on a political level. Further, the shift from memorialisation being a private activity to the public space was attributed to political and media related factors, where memorialisation is sometimes leveraged by political parties and the media for their own gains. Furthermore, how the dichotomy of victims and perpetrators may hinder the process of memorialisation within all parties affected by the conflict was also discussed.

2. Is there a fatigue experienced by women in terms of political engagement?

Most participants referred to the fatigue experienced by women engaging in the political landscape of Sri Lanka. It was acknowledged that there has been significant progress in advancing the role of women in politics in the recent past, where women have enhanced their political agency beyond just the right to vote. However, current socioeconomic factors have also caused women to disengage, as women are disproportionately affected by the domestic and care burden aggravated by the pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis.

Other barriers for women’s political engagement include awareness of policy issues and political reforms, the inherent barriers for independent candidates to enter the political sphere and women’s agency in selecting political alliances, and the unequal treatment of women officials in decision making.

The need to build capacities, create opportunities and most importantly, trust within communities for women in politics was also emphasised.

3. The specific burden of a lack of equal opportunity placed on women

Under this particular topic, the higher rates of unemployment among the female population when compared to the male population was discussed. Reasons for this may include unequal access to employment and skill building opportunities, agency within employment once it is secured, gaps in empowerment, aspiration and awareness, social norms, and the care burden.

For instance, participants emphasised the importance of skills specialisation and education for economic empowerment, highlighting disparities between rural and urban areas. This was especially seen during COVID-19, with the digital divide stressing the challenges faced by youth and women in terms of device and connectivity access.

One participant also highlighted the disproportionate effects of national policy making on women. For instance, when there is a significant decrease in the healthcare budget, the ground reality is that the medical affordability and malnutrition crisis is mostly borne by women.

4. Nuances in assessing women’s perceptions of security and wellbeing aspects

The SLB team was keen to gain a nuanced understanding of security and wellbeing aspects, as the differences between male and female respondents in this regard were surprisingly not as significant as expected. The discussion informed SLB of the spaces where there may be more nuances, that can be captured in future iterations.

For instance, the need to recognise the importance of a safe space within the household, and not only public spaces, was identified. There was an acknowledgment that qualitative research would be essential to delve deeper into the various forms of violence and the safety dynamics within homes. Furthermore, the changing nature of a “workplace” to accommodate differing work environments such as field work and remote working in capturing threats to security and wellbeing needs to be recognised further.

Participants highlighted the importance of psychological and emotional wellbeing in relation to individual and household wellbeing. This was brought out through the heightened effects of the unpaid care burden within the household due to the lack of care facilities and women cutting down on their leisure and sleeping time, which may not even be viewed as problematic by women and only seen as the current norm.

Another issue that was emphasised was the absence of targeted and effective social safety nets within communities and the overdependence on micro finance loans that have crippling  interest rates, that  ultimately lead to cycles of debt and subsequent effects on household wellbeing.


What was most apparent through the discussion was that, although at first regarded as a homogenous group of participants, the issues faced by women within the reconciliation sphere is far more complex, contextual and nuanced than expected. It was an opportunity to improve the SLB by incorporating these layered and important perspectives that are too often overlooked in private and public spaces alike. It was a successful pilot event and the SLB team looks forward to facilitating more discussions that bring together varied but distinct voices in the process of reconciliation and social cohesion in Sri Lanka.