Groundbreaking Research on Language Rights, Gender Equality and Women Empowerment

NLEAP supports CSHR research project that will significantly impact the Sri Lankan Legal and Policy Landscape

The Center for the Study of Human Rights (CSHR), supported by NLEAP, will embark on pivotal research on Language Rights, Gender Equality and Women Empowerment. The inception meeting for the research was organized by CSHR the 8th of July 2021. The research seeks to explore the impact of language rights policies and programmes on gender equality and women’s empowerment (GEWE) in Sri Lanka. CSHR, the research arm of the Faculty of Law at the University of Colombo, has over 30 years of excellence in human rights study and research under its belt.

As Professor Wasantha Seneviratne (Director, CSHR and Principal Investigator of the Research Committee) noted in her welcome address, the inception meeting served ‘to clarify the expectations of the research process and the requirements between the NLEAP committee and CSHR pertaining to the research’. As she pointed out, the research is a crucial steppingstone to integrating GEWE, as an essential component of implementing Language Rights programmes and policies.

Sharing his invaluable insights on the Specific Context of Official Language Policy, Professor N Selvakkumaran (Head – School of Law (SLIIT), Former Commissioner of the Official Language Commission), gave his recommendation on four areas the research could focus its attention. He urged the research to explore the distinction between state service roll out in rural areas and urban areas, as well as services rolled out by the center as opposed to the services rolled out by governments extension offices. He also recommended the research focus on sectors where women are highly concentrated in employment and are the mainstay of certain sectors. Furthermore, he pointed to the importance of focusing on non-banking financial institutions involved in providing micro finance loans, especially in rural areas where gender insensitive language policies are used to exploit the vulnerability of women-headed households.

As Dr  S K  Kannathas (Head of the Department of Translation Studies, Senior Lecturer English Language Teaching Unit ELTU, University of Jaffna)  pointed out that Sri Lanka recognizes language as the fundamental right of all women and men. However, he noted, ‘women and men in Sri Lanka have diverse experiences in the realization of their language rights, impacted by ethnicity, as well as social, cultural and economic standing’. Gender insensitive policy making results in the lack of understanding and focus on the need to mainstream gender equality in Government programmes that promote language rights. Which in turn, as Dr Kannathas, noted trickles down to gender neutral programmes and service delivery.

Dr Rose Wijesekara (Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Colombo and the Research Consultant – Gender), sharing her insights on the Specific Context of Language Rights, Gender Equality and Women’s Rights, explained the subtle ways in which Language perpetuates discrimination and disempowerment of women. She urged the research team to have ‘consciousness to discriminatory language as well as discriminatory outcomes of neutral language that are used in laws, policies, regulations, guidelines, directives as well as global communication’.

The Research Project Details were laid out by  the Project Manager, Ms Maduka Perera (CSHR), after which Dr Nishara Fernando (Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts, University of Colombo and the Research Consultant on Methodology) outlined some of the Key Considerations in Methodology, considered by the research team to mitigate the challenges in the field, especially those anticipated due to COVID travel regulations and restrictions. Expected outcomes, audience and use of research were outlined by Mr. M. Thirunavukarasu (Deputy Director – NLEAP).

Inspite of all the challenges that lie ahead, as Dr Nishantha Sampath Punchihewa (Dean, Faculty of Law University of Colombo) foresaw in his welcome address, this research project no doubt will push ‘the perceived boundaries of language research into new direction and expand the boundaries of Language Rights, Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment’. Both Mr Don Brownell (Project Director – NLEAP)  and Mr Wipula Dahanayake (Development Officer – High Commission of Canada)  assured CSHR of the continued  support of NLEAP and the Government of Canada towards this hallmark research project. Also participating in the discussion were  Dr. Ramani Jayasundere (Director, Justice and Gender Programs, The Asia Foundation), Ms Saama Rajakaruna (Gender Specialist – NLEAP) and representatives from the universities, partner institutions and NLEAP.