It’s funny how most laws and policies regarding women and youth are formulated mostly by old men.
This is not just in Sri Lanka but the case world over. It’s what brought about the suffragettes a century ago – a movement, which vociferously demanded the women’s right to vote at a time when women were considered nothing more than the property of men.
Likewise, in history, the youth of several nations have had to take on forceful measures in order to be heard, from protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989 to the series of uprisings collectively known as Arab Spring of 2010-11.
We should try and avoid the point where the youth feel the only way their voice can be heard is if they take to the streets. As often happens in Sri Lanka, especially with regard to university students.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Sri Lanka has started policy dialogues with the youth in the Southern Province and policy makers and implementers. This initiative is to address the needs to the youth and to gradually empower them. The
Southern Province was the first in which the initiative has been carried out. The UNFPA plans to continue the initiative in the other provinces as well.
The dialogues in the south were conducted with some highly inspiring and motivated youth. Ruwinda Wickramanayaka was one of them.
Ruwinda (19) is a representative of the Youth Provincial Council of Southern Province, a model Provincial Council that primes youth leaders. A firm believer of youth engagement in provincial development, he works through this model Provincial Council to be a voice for the concerns of youth at community level.
The Provincial Ministry of Youth Affairs reached out to Ruwinda to participate in the Provincial Youth Consultation considering his active engagement within the youth provincial council.
Ruvinda says he was motivated by the prospect of being part of a forum that would lead to actual policy change, bringing about a positive change to lives of many young people in his province. He is proud of the vibrant culture and diversity of the Southern Province that sets it apart from other provinces and believes that even the three districts of Galle, Matara and Hambanthota are socio-economically distinct from each other.
He believes that exposure to experience and transforming challenges to opportunities will help the youth of south to realize their potential. As a young leader himself, he advocates increasing the youth engagement in provincial decision making mechanisms and believes that this initiative to bring in a youth perspective to policy discussions is an important step in achieving this.
“Ideas of youth are important to be considered when formulating policies that will directly impact our lives. Knowing that what we discussed here today, our thoughts and inputs will be reflected in the provincial youth policy leaves me feeling hopeful” Ruwinda reflected at the end of the consultation.
He feels that the experience of interacting with a diverse group consisting of politicians, provincial ministry officials, public servants, academics and other youth leaders of his province has broadened his perspective on challenges that exist, and opportunities to be pursued.
“It was an interesting experience; it’s encouraging to feel that my voice is being heard… I certainly feel better equipped for advocating for policy change,” he states with a friendly grin.