Women make the world and they can also change the world. Though society would have changed, and we can see women in every field, excelling in Arts, Politics, Legal, Business and Educational fields, the concept remains the same – that is, women are the weaker sex and still the male dominates. It is high time that we changed this concept - and gave women more encouragement and influence to make them independent, strong, and get appreciated for what they do.
Regarding this fact, Save the Children International with the European Union conducted a film show recently with a panel discussion titled “Films of Winfluence”, a programme which was based on women’s wealth and influence, amongst a distinguished gathering including members representing different fields, at the Lakshman Kadiragamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies, Colombo. It was held under the patronage of the guest of honour and Ambassador of the European Union, David Dally and Country Director of Save the Children, William Lynch. This programme also has been implemented in countries such as India and Central Asia, and has been expanded to the Southern and Eastern part of Sri Lanka under the EU-funded project “Empowering Vulnerable Women in Sri Lanka”. The panel discussion also included six women leaders from Matara and Batticaloa who spoke about their journey to success, challenges and how they overcame those. It was an interesting discussion they had and the audience too had the chance of asking questions at the end of the discussion.
In his welcome speech, Country Director William Lynch said that this is a good opportunity for women to enable themselves to stand up on their own feet and possess some individuality. He said it is a very difficult project to do, because they did not tell anybody to do anything. They have to rely on themselves and not to wait till somebody tells them what to do. The guest of honour, Ambassador of the European Union David Daly stressed to the audience that compared to the challenges that many of them face, the people with whom they are, the challenges he faces are much less. He paid tribute to the group leaders and their work, and also for their efforts with the technical support by Save the Children, Institution for Development of Community Strength (INDECOS) in Matara and Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Batticaloa who have implemented the programme in the aforementioned districts with the participation of 3629 women from 400 groups. The objective of the programme is to socially, economically, culturally and politically empower women at community, provincial and national levels. The Women’s groups have their own agendas and money saved by each group which they use for their own initiatives. The film documentary showcased four documentary films of individual and group stories which recite the stories of their empowerment. It was categorized into main sections as each individual spoke about his/her achievements.
"The objective of the programme is to socially, economically, culturally and politically empower women at community, provincial and national levels. The Women’s groups have their own agendas and money saved by each group which they use for their own initiatives. "
When “Women with influence” went to Batticaloa, where there were no proper birth or marriage certificates for many families, they encouraged a group of women to form a team and provided them with training in self-employment. Thushari Chandima’s story was interesting as well as encouraging. When she attended the Business Development Training, she wanted to do something different. She made her plan to operate a school transport service with a three-wheeler. She used to be at home taking care of her children while her husband was away at sea. She also engaged in selling edibles that gave her a good income. With this project, many women have found some way of self-employment, such as making food items, weaving floor mats, bed covers etc. There were several interesting stories which showed how they overcame the challenges having hailed from fishing villages and war-torn areas.
The group leaders included Suhandi, Dayali and Amaryaaki from Batticaloa, Thushari, Kamani, Chandani from the down south. Both Sinhala and Tamil translations were used throughout the discussion. There was a query from the audience that a group leader said that she would be interested in engaging politics at the provincial level to safeguard the rights of women.
This attempt by the project would indeed be a boost to uplift the livelihood of women and encourage them on self-employment and also on financial management. The “Women’s Wealth and Influence Programme” has been conducted annually and it is a non-profit-making organization which dedicates itself for the welfare of helpless women in the Asian continent. Distinguished guests from ministries and other government bodies, diplomatic missions, international NGOs and media personnel took part in this event.
Why are female film directors very rare?
There is a saying, “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world” and that is exactly what the women are doing. Compared to the past, women have more exposure to the world and they represent all fields – be it education, law, business, politics, administrative or the field of arts. We can see how Asian women are becoming more independent these days but the concept remains the same there - that how much they do well in their respective fields it is still a male-dominated world. Sri Lanka has the pride of having the first woman Prime Minister in the world – Sirimavo Bandaranaike. In the cinematic field, we hardly see any women coming up, especially female film directors, comparatively in the world cinema, female directors such as Kathryn Bigelow made history as the first woman ever to win an Oscar award for best Director of “Hurt Locker” in 2008. She is also known for male-friendly movies, such as Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty and Point Break. Also, not forgetting Catherine Hardwick as the director of the first and best in the Twilight Series. Why are female directors so rare in Sri Lanka? Are women getting due respect and attention here? Few of the most prominent female directors and producers in the Sinhala Cinema industry expressed their views.
"There is nothing that a woman can’t do if she has the courage and determination. Compared to their opposite gender, it is said that women have more tolerance and patience to face challenges. So why not let the feminine category break all cultural and social barriers and enter the field of film industry and show what Sri Lankan women are capable of?"
Speaking about Sinhala cinema, Dr. Sumithra Pieris said that as one of the most prominent woman film makers in Sri Lanka, she is the first qualified Sri Lankan to direct films and is known as the “poetess” of the Sinhala Cinema. Her most notable films are “Gehenu Lamai” and “Ganga Addara”.
Married to the legendary film director, Dr. Lester James Peiris, Dr. Sumithra added “actually if we look at the world cinema, the women film directors are coming up. In the past, women were not given much exposure to this field. But now things have changed. “The Hurt Locker” which won the Oscar was made by a woman. I had to make a huge effort to make a name where only a few women were able to do it. When I made my first film, “Gehenu Lamai”, it was highly appreciated by foreign critics. Now there are a lot of young people joining in by making short films”.
Inoka Sathyangani is best known for her films “Sulang Kirilli” and “Cinderella’’. Sulang Kirilli received a lot of criticism for its theme based on abortion. However, the film made its mark by winning the highest number of awards won by a single film in the history of the Sri Lankan film industry.
“Actually there was a background for it,” she says. “This industry is male-dominated. For 10-15 years, there was no place to get academic qualifications. Male directors had to depend on the seniors to learn the technique. It’s rather difficult for women to get into the field because they lack technical knowledge. I was lucky; I came to this field at a very young age. I was trained under Dr. D. B Nihalsinghe. Even the technical staff were not cooperative. When questioned about whether Sri Lankan women get their due respect in any field, she says that it depends. “In fact, if you have a strong mind and if you are a person who won’t give up anything under any circumstances, you could prove a demand in any field. My parents didn’t push me for anything. I was audacious and I managed to survive. Your colleagues might try to control you and discourage you. In this particular area we have to be firm-headed. You have to be an independent and a strong person. I had to overcome a lot of challenges,” she said. When asked whether it was the reason her films were mostly based on women, she says, “Not exactly, it depends on the theme you select”. She further said that to encourage more women to enter this field they should be given a good educational background. Most directors don’t have the technical knowledge. So if they don’t have it, people would try to run you down. So it is essential to have more institutions to encourage women to enter this field,” she added.
Milina Sumathipala is well-known as a film producer, who made her contribution to the film industry by producing “Ganga Addara”, “Duwata mawaka misa” and “Uppalawanna”. She is the Chairperson of the Sumathi group and the former Chairperson of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress.
“We recently held the “Pattini” premiere which is yet to be released. The problem is women don’t come forward. There are people who volunteer to join this industry, but they seem to be afraid. There are those who have the financial security too, yet they are reluctant to move forward. If someone encourages them to enter the field, they might come up. In the industry, I am still there. If they come and ask for some help I can at least advise and guide them. But I think most of them are afraid” she said.
There is nothing that a woman can’t do if she has the courage and determination. Compared to their opposite gender, it is said that women have more tolerance and patience to face challenges. So why not let the feminine category break all cultural and social barriers and enter the field of film industry and show what Sri Lankan women are capable of?