Building Blocks: Tagging the non-partisan political activism of a generation

“We are about non-partisan political action” read the overwhelmingly popular line on screen that was instantaneously picked up and reiterated on multiple platforms by those who were present. It was the theme that guided the brief yet hopefully informative presentation on what the Hashtag Generation has been up to and continues to strive towards.

It is one of the final legs of #FemParl the second Regional Young Women Leaders Dialogue. It was an initiative pioneered by the Government of Canada to encourage action on improving political representation of young women in the South Asian Region. The series of dialogues held in Sri Lanka and later in Delhi, focusing on the subcontinent, was supposed to highlight the underrepresentation of women in positions of decision making, particularly in our national parliaments. The collective efforts of the Canadian High Commissions in the regions were able to bring together an active and enthusiastic set of young delegates, some of whom have had exposure to formal political processes and structures and also others who were avid activists with an interest in pushing this agenda forward.

This particular event in focus was organized by Hashtag Generation at the invitation of the Canadian High Commission in Colombo and took the form of a dialogue where the delegates were exposed to an interaction with an eminent panel of speakers and also a diverse audience representing different stakeholders.

Hashtag Generation, a youth-led, youth-run movement, considered this an enormous opportunity. With a strong online presence, especially showing evidence of running successful issue specific online campaigns, Hashtag Generation has been slowly expanding itself to the offline sphere as well, taking up initiatives that concerned with youth civic and political participation especially with a focus on young women. As such, Hashtag Generation was well geared to collaborate with #FemParl.

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Introductory remarks by Mahishaa Balraj

Hashtag Generation in partnership with the Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka (and FPA Youth) went onto host the delegates for an engaging discussion followed by a knowledge and experience sharing session both on the part of the delegates as well as the speakers and the audience.

In the words of the Canadian High Commission in Colombo, we were able to “pull together an excellent and inspiring panel” which included the likes of Hon. State Minister Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, former local council member and attorney-at-law Ms. Jeevani Kariyawasam, and Point Pedro Municipal Council member Mathini Nelson.

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In her opening remarks, the Executive Director of FPA Sri Lanka, Ms Thushara Agus expressed optimism in different actors coming together in furthering our conversations on gender parity. She added that partnerships, as evidenced by the day’s event are the way forward in achieving our common goals of equitable development.

Then it was the turn of the panelists to express their views and engage with the delegates present. The panelists underscored all the current challenges that women, especially young women face with regards to political participation, especially in the Sri Lankan context and highlighted a few of the actions that could be taken to overcome them.

Recalling the challenges she endured in building a distinguished political career in Sri Lanka, Hon. State Minister Dr. Sudarshani Fernandupulle mentioned that some of those same challenges still exist for the young women of the 21st Century to get into the political space in Sri Lanka. In a timely call for action she went on to say that in order to overcome those challenges everybody needs to come together to groom a generation of younger women in politics, who are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to take on the impenetrable political structures of the day.

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Jeevani Kariyawasam, Former member of the Chilaw Urban Council rarely fails to capture the audience with her remarks. This time too her passionate remarks on fighting the fight towards gender parity was one of the highlights of the session. She reminded everyone that “Increasing political participation of women is only one step in the wider struggle for Gender Equality”. Yet she said it is one major element in that struggle since it enables women to ascend to positions of power and decision making where they are able to substantively contribute to gender equality.

Throughout the remarks of each panelist, one challenge was constantly highlighted. It was the fact that political parties and their leadership should do more in terms of giving women more opportunities to run for and get elected to office. All the panelists viewed the inadequate action on the part of the political parties as a major barrier for women. Point Pedro Urban Council Member Mathini Nelson wanted Political party leadership to empower women to take action.

Next was the turn of young activist Prabodi Senani. This was an important moment for Hashtag Generation as she was one of the trainees (along with Mathini Nelson from the Jaffna leg) of our #WeGovernSL training that was aimed at building the capacity of women in terms of political participation. Whilst being grateful for Hashtag Generation, which was humbling, she emphasized the importance of opportunities that empower you in your quest to be an active citizen in your community.

Then, the delegates from the region were given the opportunity make their remarks. It was heartening to see that the all the views expressed more or less coincided with the aims and objectives we’ve set ourselves for Hashtag Generation. The delegate of Maldives said that in her country, she aims to bring to bring young people to ‘safe spaces’ to talk, learn about civic and political engagement.

Furthermore, the delegate of Bhutan said she was impressed by the views expressed by Point Pedro Urban Council member Mathini Nelson saying that there are a lot of learnings for her to take back to her country. The Indian delegate agreed with members of the audience is saying that the remarks by Jeevani Kariyawasam inspired her to continue all the good work she’s been doing on women’s civic and political participation. The delegate also encouraged the like of Hashtag Generation when she pointed towards the importance of sustaining conversations such as these and also the value of learning from other organizations and movements.

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Indeed a conversation. A dialogue that hopefully made an impression on many in a few different ways. For Hashtag Generation it was a step up and was really exciting to partner with the Canadian High Commission. There’s so much we could learn from Canada in this regard. For instance, we Prime Minister Trudeau recently appointing a gender equal cabinet.

Your work they say is only half of the job. The other half is the effective communication of it, targeting all your stakeholders. So it was a case of live, live and live; the modern version of lights, camera and action where Hashtag Generation in keeping with the modern day demands went live on multiple platforms such as twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Another standard that was upheld by Hashtag Generation was that, the event was in all three languages where anyone could express their views in the language of their choice and simultaneous interpretation was available.

Comments and reactions to the event, are a plenty saying that there was energy and a buzz in the room which was fantastic. The Counsellor of the Canadian High Commission for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Ms. Jennifer Hart speaking at the event applauded the success of the partnership with Hashtag Generation for #FemParl and went on to add that it was a true pleasure working with us. She hopes that this partnership continues long after this event.

 

 

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