The Student Social Workers in the academic year 2017/18 at the National Institute of Social Development (NISD), following the Bachelor of Social Work Degree, organised a live discussion in December 2020, under the topic, “Towards an Inclusive Society with The Right-Based Approach in #Disability“. Additionally, the discussion was focusing on the importance of the right-based approach in different settings, the role of social workers and the society to make inclusion and the role of persons with disability to make a path for an inclusive society.
The guest speakers were; Ms #Manique Guneratne, Manager – Specialised Training & Disability Resource Centre of the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon, Ms Niluka Gunawardena, an educator, examiner, advocator for disability rights and a visiting lecturer at the University of Colombo & Kelaniya and Mr Amila Adikaram, psychiatrist social worker and counsellor at the Teaching Hospital, Ratnapura.
The University of Colombo conducted training on Disability Awareness and Sensitization under the Faculty of Arts – AHEAD grant and implemented in collaboration with the Centre for Disability Research Education and Practice (CEDREP) and the Staff Development Centre (SDC), the University of Colombo for the academic staff in December 2020. Ms. #Manique Gunaratne conducted the session on how to provide reasonable accommodation for under-graduate with #Disabilities.
Manique Gunaratne, The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon, 385 J3 Old Kotte Road, Rajagiriya, Sri Lanka.
Ms. #Manique Gunaratne was a speaker at the virtual public event in the margins of the 13th Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of People with #Disabilities (CoSP13 CRPD) in December 2020
Organized by: CARE, Community Association for Vulnerable Persons (CAVP, Cameroon), National Union of Women with Disabilities of Uganda (NUWODU) and Women Enabled International. Co-sponsored by: Permanent Mission to Mexico to the UN, Permanent Mission of Ireland to the UN and UNICEF
We have known for years that people with disabilities are often excluded from programs and services designed to prevent and respond to GBV in humanitarian emergencies. More recently with the onset of COVID-19 and the GBV ‘shadow pandemic,’ it has triggered, women and girls with disabilities are being left out and left behind in even greater numbers. They may be isolated in their homes, overlooked during needs assessments and not consulted in the design or evaluation of programs, but global pandemic or no, all human rights of women and girls with disabilities must be ensured and particular protections to those in humanitarian crises must be guaranteed.
This event brings together women who are at the frontlines in Cameroon, Uganda and South Sudan, addressing the intersection between gender, disabilities, GBV prevention and humanitarian response. Through a moderated discussion these women’s firsthand experiences about the key challenges they face were heard and what approaches are working and what needs to change or scale up to ensure we deliver on our collective commitment to make access to GBV services, mental health and psychosocial support, and sexual and reproductive health services and programs available to all on an equal basis. There was also an opportunity for participants to pose their own questions to the panel.
The objectives of the event were To provide an international platform for local disability rights advocates working in a range of countries experiencing humanitarian emergencies to talk directly with States Parties to the CRPD about the challenges that women and girls with disabilities face in these contexts, particularly when it comes to GBV prevention and response and access to the highest attainable standard of mental and physical health, including sexual and reproductive health services. The speakers provided recommendations about how these challenges can be overcome to advance commitments to inclusive humanitarian action and inclusive and gender-responsive sustainable development.
By promoting a better understanding of the challenges local women-led and women’s rights organisations are experiencing both pre-and post-COVID, provide concrete recommendations to the humanitarian system and States Parties to the CRPD to ensure all stakeholders take action to put women and girls with disabilities at the centre of humanitarian action, both as agents of change and as members of affected communities.
To showcase the tools that have been developed to address the intersection between disability, gender and humanitarian response, including the IASC Disability Guidelines, Minimum Standards for Prevention and Response to GBV in Emergencies; and the WRC/IRC Toolkit for GBV Practitioners.
Participants included UN Permanent Missions, experts on gender and disability rights from Member States that are Parties to the CRPD; UN officials and staff; civil society representatives from national, regional and international NGOs.
Manique Gunaratne Visiting Lecturer – University of Colombo
#Sri Lanka currently ranks 126th out of 153 countries in terms of economic participation and opportunities for women in the workforce, according to the World Economic Forum. In recent years, overall female labour force participation actually regressed from 41% down to 36%, while female representation within science-based professions has recorded an equivalent reduction – particularly in fields of engineering and technology. In an evolving economy, these disparities actually represent a severe limitation on the potential for economic growth in Sri Lanka. This disparity is made even more serious given that women account for over 51% of Sri Lanka’s population but their current underrepresentation in technology means they will likely be among the groups most vulnerable to job losses as a result of the ongoing fourth industrial revolution (4IR).
However, according to the University Grants Commission (UGC), in 2017 alone, females accounted for 49% of the undergraduates enrolled to pursue an education in STEM and over 40% of those who finally graduated from university. Therefore, relatively speaking, the key challenge that Sri Lanka faces is not simply a lack of access to STEM education for women, but also the fact that women who are qualified, do not enter the workforce, or if they do, it does not translate into a stable long-term career path in most instances.
#Airtel, a global telecommunication services provider and one of Sri Lanka’s most sought-after employers has been working across the board to enhance female participation within the telco in order to home in on this massive reserve of untapped talent. Recognised as one of the ‘Top 10 Best Workplaces for Women’ in 2019 by Great Place to Work and with over 63% of the female workforce in managerial positions, Airtel has been driving home the advantages of providing an equal platform for employees to work, train and benefit from all of the telco’s core working areas.
WOMEN TAKING THE LEAD FROM THE TOP
Having been part of the telco’s operations for over a decade, Airtel Lanka’s Chief Service Officer, Saumya Narain manages teams that work on design innovation, process automation and digital transformation. Saumya’s initial move to Airtel India in 2003 was a bold decision for her, given that she was switching verticals from banking to telecommunications.
“I studied commerce and came from a risk management background. So, when I began my journey at Airtel, I had to restart my career ladder. Currently, as CSO, I am responsible for ensuring that the entire customer lifecycle is designed and deployed effectively and synchronized with back-end systems. This meant that I had to get a grip on the rapidly evolving concepts of IT and telco-engineering, which was certainly intimidating at first. One of the main challenges was getting rid of the mental limitation that IT and tech were beyond my scope.”
In the years that followed, Saumya began to actively pursue every opportunity to deepen her technical understanding – attending online courses, seminars, and webinars, and learning directly from Airtel’s own technical teams.
“This is where the beauty of Airtel really shines through. We had several mentors and leaders – including highly driven and successful women who encouraged us to set aside limitations we had internalised and influenced me and many other female colleagues to rise through the ranks. The future is undoubtedly digital, and there is plenty of room for women to succeed in the telecommunications sphere. The only barrier to entry is knowledge, and with enough commitment, this is not a barrier at all. Especially with a company like Airtel that gives women the room and support they need to succeed both personally and professionally, I think the future for women in tech and design is bright,” she stated.
BREAKING THE GENDER BARRIER BY CENTRING WOMAN
Airtel’s emphasis on diversity flows down into every level of the organization. A great example of this policy in practice is Chamila Silva who serves as Assistant Manager, Intelligent Network and is one of only four female intelligence networking engineers in the whole of Sri Lanka. Chamila’s job requires her to be on call around the clock in order to ensure that the telco’s pre-paid payment systems are always running smoothly. Given that the vast majority of Airtel Lanka’s customers are young Sri Lankans on pre-paid connections, this work is critical to the telco’s overall performance.
Reflecting on her educational and professional journey into her present role as Assistant Manager in the Engineering domain, Chamila explains how her affinity towards STEM fields was sparked from a very young age. “I‘ve always loved math and science, and in school, these were areas which I excelled in. I also wanted to be different from others. Many of my classmates were not too interested in pursuing higher education, but I dreamt of using my knowledge to become more independent and live my own life. Especially when I decided to pursue IT engineering, there were quite a few people who tried to discourage me saying that it wasn’t an appropriate field for a woman.” “To be one of the few women working in this field was not easy and there were times when I wanted to quit, but I always persevered. My older brother is also in this field and he gave me a lot of encouragement and advice, and eventually, those who had tried to discourage me had to come to the understanding that this has always been my passion and that nothing would stop me from succeeding,” she explained.
Despite her qualifications with a B.Sc. in Computer Engineering from the University of Peradeniya and Cisco certification in Networking, Chamila noted that it took over a year before she could find a job that she was passionate about. Now, having completed her years with Airtel Lanka, Chamila is the primary caregiver and breadwinner for her family, in addition to pursuing her MBA at the Postgraduate Institute of Management.
Culturally, notions of what is gender appropriate are instilled even from a very early stage in life across the minds of young women and girls. These stereotypes tend to determine the educational and career choices for most women, taking away from the quality of their learning experience and limiting their educational and career choices.
Airtel Lanka is an equal employment opportunity provider and has taken strides and leaps in sustaining a truly global culture which is non-discriminatory and equal for all. The telco giant believes in creating a level playing field as women too have the potential to supersede beyond their aspirations and other milestones set by social norms, if they are provided with the same opportunities available to their male counterparts.
ELEVATING OTHERS THROUGH STEM
Airtel is also a firm believer in the power of technology and tech-related employment to create opportunity and ultimately, to empower a diverse workplace. The journey of Gayani Batawalaarachchi attests to this fact. Currently hoping to pursue an education in computer sciences, Gayani was introduced to the telco as a result of Airtel’s partnership with the #Employer Federation of Ceylon (EFC) to open up on-the-job training opportunities for persons with disabilities. Gayani, who is visually impaired, completed her secondary education through the support of the Ceylon School for the Deaf and Blind, situated in Ratmalana. For her vocational education, Gayani joined with the EFC to obtain training in the fundamentals of computing, the internet and Microsoft Office. This training helped pave the way for the young recruit to apply for her current position at Airtel.
“Growing up I never expected to join the workforce, let alone work with computers and for this I am thankful to #Ms Manique Guneratne from the EFC who trained and encouraged me to apply for jobs. Through their training programmes, we were given access to special applications like JAWS – which is a computer screen reading programme with text to speech output. This helped me to start getting comfortable with technology and computers. Everyone I’ve worked with at Airtel has been very friendly and helpful, and after working here, I really feel that I need to continue working and learning. When applying for the position at Airtel, I too had the same hiring process as anyone else who would have filled in for the position. Of course, I had to go through an initial selection process with the EFC. I have truly been able to benefit from the flexible working environment and the on-the-job training that I have received during my time at Airtel,” says Gayani.
Gayani also acknowledges the support she had received from a very young age especially from her family and school. She credits this support system for encouraging her to pursue her vocational education and her career. As her training in ICT with the EFC helped to open up more employment opportunities, moving forward, Gayani hopes to use her time at Airtel to learn more about technology and eventually pursue further educational qualifications in the field.
This is only a glimpse into the lives of some of the powerful women at Airtel who work tirelessly behind the scenes addressing not only customer requirements but also social and economic issues with the use of mobile technology. As the global telco giant continues to reinforce its commitment to establish the ‘new normal’ through an inclusive and diverse workplace, the company has been able to serve an increasingly diverse customer base. A gender-diverse workforce allows the company to attract and retain talented men and women who are at the centre of the telco’s global drive to not leave anyone behind but to create a workplace that is equal and beneficial for all.
The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon, Specialised Training & #Disability Resource Centre conducts training on “How to make your organisation an inclusive workplace”. If you wish to have an inhouse training please contact us. Ms. #Manique Gunaratne conducted the “Inclusive Workplace” session at the H R Diploma conducted by EFC in November 2020.
Manique Gunaratne Resource Person – Beyond the Reach Project of Internet Society Sri Lanka Chapter
Disability Organizations’ Joint Front (DOJF) has embarked on an advocacy initiative to provide “Education and Awareness on the Rights of persons with #disability” to district level leaders as an integral part of the project titled “Disability Inclusion in Mainstream Development Process”. The Advanced phase of the Rights Education was held in September 2020 at Hotel Janaki. The selected participants who have completed the initial training will receive a comprehensive education and training on Disability, Gender & Human Rights.
Ms. #Manique Gunaratne shared her experience in this training program by conducting a session on the “Vocational Training & Employment” thematic area.
Manique Gunaratne Member of the Expert Body of the Sub Committee on Persons with Disabilities – Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
People who live with #disabilities often face fear, discomfort, and hostility at a rate that far exceeds that encountered by those who do have no disability. The vast majority of such treatment is rooted in a basic lack of understanding about the challenges that come with having a disability, and the experience of sharing the world with people who do not. People often seek to fill in gaps in their knowledge, and when information is lacking, confusion and even fear may result.
Anyone wishing to overcome this experience them will be best served by first recognizing that a disability is a limited phenomenon. A physical disability may have a large impact on how an individual interacts with the physical world. A sensory disability may alter the gathering of information. These are conditions; however, in no way prevent the individuals who live with them from having unique personalities, talents, knowledge, humour, and lives. People who live with disabilities have more in common than not with those who have no disability. We all share the same existence and the same basic needs.
In other cases, people who are living with
a disability may have feelings about language that is not in keeping with the
established guidelines for etiquette. Whatever the reason, the commonly
recognized best practices of disability-related etiquette may not always be the
preferred practices, and it is always most important for the most effective and
Disability etiquettes have been a huge challenge for people with disabilities. This includes customers as well as employees. Therefore, Employers need to sensitize their staff on disability etiquettes. Please make sure that at least a few staff members are sensitized on the above matter to treat your customers with dignity and justice.
Ms. #Manique Gunaratne conducted the training in “Disability Etiquettes” for staff members of UNDP in October 2020.
Manique Gunaratne CISCO International Trainer for I T E (Information Technology Essentials) and CCNA (Cisco Computer Network Associates)
Persons with disability at The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon, Specialised Training & #Disability Resource Centre together with Family Planning Association Sri Lanka spoke of their rights on sexual and re-productive health on World Health Day in April 2021.
Now is the time for action concerning #SRH of persons with disabilities! “Persons with disabilities have the same sexual and reproductive health (SRH) needs as other people. Yet they often face barriers to information and services. Through our IPPF SPRINT Project, we conduct training on sexual and reproductive health and rights“, says Ms. #Manique Gunaratne.
#IPPF, South Asia Region
“The challenges are not necessarily part of having a disability, but instead often reflect lack of social attention, legal protection, understanding, and support” – WHO/UNFPA guidance notes
“Persons with disabilities have the same needs for SRH services as everyone else. #SRH knowledge and services matter!”, says Mr. Yasal Samarajeewa.
#IPPF, South Asia Region IPPF WHO Sri Lanka UNFPA Sri Lanka
Persons with disabilities face many barriers to care and information about SRH, GBV and other violence, and abuse. The frequent assumption is that persons with disabilities are not sexually active and therefore do not need SRH services. “Everybody matters – sexual and reproductive healthcare and information is a must for all!” says Ms. Ganga Subasinghe. #WorldHealthDay#Choice#Access#SRHR#SRH#LKA
“Persons with disabilities have the same needs for SRH services as everyone else. In fact, persons with disabilities may actually have greater needs for SRH education and care than persons without disabilities due to their increased vulnerability to abuse”, says Ms. Sansani Kavindya.
#WorldHealthDay #Fact #SRHR #SRH #LKA
“It is important to assure that sexual and reproductive health services are friendly to persons with disabilities. SRH information and services is a must for ALL persons” says Mr. Chamod Ruwanga.
#WorldHealthDay #SRHAwareness #HumanRights #IPPF, South Asia Region
The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon, Specialised Training & Disability Resource Centre implements several programmes to develop entrepreneurship skills of persons with diverse #disabilities. The Centre started training in Entrepreneurship Skills Development in Cookery on Rice Dishes in September 2020. Five girls with a learning disability will be trained in Cookery. The programme is sponsored by Ms Dinusha Wickramasekera and Ms Dale Ramanathan with the guidance of Ms #Manique Gunaratne.
Manique Gunaratne Vice-Chair Person – South Asian Disability Forum