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Brandix partners NetWwater in pioneering project to train women for leadership in rural community-based organisations

'Jalavahini' - launched by the Brandix Group - is a pioneering initiative to empower women community leaders involved in water resources management in rural Sri Lanka, in recognition of the fact that community-based organisations (CBOs) are responsible for a sixth of the country's water supply.

The programme will see Brandix, whose principal community engagement is also focussed on water, conducting a series of interactive training programmes across the country for women with 'hands-on' roles at the grassroots level in the water sector, in collaboration with NetWwater (Network of Women Water Professionals).

The first of these training programmes was ceremonially inaugurated in June 2012 by the Water Supply and Drainage Minister, Dinesh Gunawardena at the Water Resources Board / Brandix Training Centre, Anuradhapura, for a representative group of women from the North Central Province, a region facing many serious water-related challenges.

Speaking at the event, Minister Gunawardena said the government had given its blessings to these community-based organisations. In the Anuradhapura District alone, 19 per cent of potable piped water was supplied by CBOs, the Minister said. "This programme sponsored by Brandix is extremely important because it will help these organisations to develop an effective action plan by identifying future difficulties, challenges and trends," he said.

The Minister said the National Community Water Trust was set up outside the purview of government departments and companies to give them security, technology, strength and independence, and that his ministry would extend its cooperation to enable them to invest their earnings and make profits. He said the government was appreciative of the support of Brandix to this effort.

The training will be provided at residential programmes in order to make best use of time and travel costs. These sessions will provide networking as well as skills building opportunities. Anuradhapura was selected for the launch of this programme because it was one of the epicenters of Chronic Kidney Disease, attributed by some experts to poor water quality. It is hoped that this initiative will also provide an opportunity for the organizers and institutional partners to understand the current issues and challenges facing women in the water sector at community level.

The pilot programme at Anuradhapura on 11th and 12th June 2012 brought together women community leaders from villages such as Hidogama, Sirmathipura, Kadawathagama, Kahatagasdigiliya, Mahakumbukgollewa, Gatalama, Galkulama, Mahabellankadawala, Maradankalla, Katuwela, Mahabulankulama, Hinguruwewa, Galenbindunuwewa, Thanthirimale and many others. The participants were either office bearers of community-based water organisations or those who play roles such as meter readers, pump operators or 'Keth Ela Niyojitha' (field canal representative) in irrigation systems.

Discussion topics included 'management challenges in community institutions,' 'climate change overview and its impacts for women in the North Central Province,' 'livelihood opportunities for Community Based Organisations,' 'financial education for women in community organizations,' 'water security issues related to women and irrigation in NCP,' 'water supply and water quality in NCP - implications for women,' and 'gender issues at the community level - impact on the water sector.'

According to NetWwater Chairperson Kusum Athukorala, Sri Lanka has about 3,500 community based organizations (CBO) in the water sector, functioning at differing levels of success. These are now being reorganized under the newly formed National Community Water Trust. Many of these organizations have extensive female participation at membership level but lesser input at managerial level. One of the primary objectives of NetWwater is to promote gender mainstreaming and creating opportunities for women in decision making to become full partners in sustainable water development.

The Brandix Jalavahini programme will be replicated in other areas, including the north and east of Sri Lanka, where water management for water supply and sanitation, ecosystem management, irrigation and irrigated agriculture is critical in providing livelihood security for communities.

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