Although many people have various views about the many barriers to social work, if you have the courage and the will power, you will be able to get to know the needs of the people and act accordingly. I must admit that my education had greatly contributed to this social work.
I, Mohammad Ismail Fathima Rihanna, a native of Nintavur, Ampara District, completed my primary education at Nintavur KM/KM/ Almina Vidyalayam and my secondary education at KM/KM Al Araq National School. Subsequently, I completed a Diploma in Professional Social Work at the National Institute of Social Development (NISD). I then took the required steps to improve and nurture myself in the said field. I started my social service activities at Albaharia Central College, Panadura and have been involved in social work along with local and international NGOs.
Both my parents were teachers. I lost my father when I was very young. We were five children. Our mother single handedly took care of us. I got married and I have a daughter. I have been involved in social work from the beginning. The knowledge I gained through social studies helped me immensely in my social work. The on-field trainings which I received during the course helped me in my work as well. In addition, I do not have limitations pertaining to language skills. Therefore, I am able to converse with anyone without any problems and involve in my work. I introduced several projects in the school I worked at. In addition, I have also fulfilled such duties in my village.
Through my social work, I have gained experience by working with local and international NGOs in aspects such as providing assistance for academic activities, and providing livelihood assistance. I also work as a counsellor for school students and for women who face various problems. My family is completely supportive of my work.
Most of the women in my community face problems pertaining to their livelihood. The activities of the male members of their families, lack of employment, and usage of drugs in the society are some of the aspects that affect women. There have been several instances where I have held discussions with them, provided them with advice and helped them find solutions to their problems. I have also been able to identify the skills and abilities of such women and guide them towards suitable employment opportunities.
As a result of these activities, there is noticeable change among the women who head their households where they have been encouraged to stand up on their own feet instead of relying on others. We have been able to provide guidance to those who are skilled, but do not know how to showcase them. Children are victims of broken families. In such situations, we provide counselling to them through which these children get the opportunity to ensure a bright future.
In addition, those who are below the poverty line and those who do not have basic facilities are provided help through the Zakat fund by the Nintavur main mosque. In such situations, we seek the assistance of the mosques to hold those in need. We have also provided help through women’s organisations. My social service activities before entering into politics were limited to within the region.
It was in this context that I was given the opportunity to enter into politics in 2018. Even though I was aware that I would receive criticism from the society, I was able to contest the election with the support of my husband and emerge victorious. I contested the Local Government election through the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress. I am proud to say that I am the first woman to have contested an election in my region and emerge victorious. I was elected as an honorary member of the council, which provided me with the opportunity to strengthen my community-based work and my skills. I nurtured the activist within me even more. All my political activities are carried out representing the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress.
I have not faced severe challenges by male politicians during my political journey. The men were very supportive during election campaign activities. Through them, I was able to obtain the support of their families as well. This helped me in my political journey and to emerge victorious in the election. I have received support considerable from men whenever I tabled proposals at the council, thus allowing me to proceed further. It is important that we overcome the social challenge rather than the personal challenge. My goal is to fulfil the expectations of those who voted for me. I will attempt to solve the problems of the people by creating groups in my circuit. These groups will identify the problems faced by the people, which I will present at the council. In some cases, I will attempt to solve the problems through these groups. There are many problems which include drinking water shortage and lack of proper roads. I have been able to provide solutions to these problems through discussions with other members of the council.
I contested the election in 2018 from the seventh circuit and was elected to the council. I did not face any obstacles during the nomination process, which in turn allowed me to contest the election without any problems. There are views that those who are appointed to the council based on proportional representation, after contesting the election through proportional representation and losing, are not given their due place. However, my opinion is that such decisions are taken by the Chairperson of the council. If we take the ruling party and the opposition party, there could be times when members of the opposition might face problems. The expenses for election campaign activities were spent using our own money, with some contribution from the party.
As I first stepped into the council as a council member, I assumed that the processes would be reasonable. I did not have adequate knowledge on the procedures of the council. In addition, there have been instances during my initial days at the council where our views were ignored. After I entered politics, several organisations commenced training programmes for members of the council. These training programmes have been helpful in our political journeys. During my initial days in politics, I did not have adequate knowledge on laws and the procedures that were adopted within councils. Therefore, the trainings which we received provided us with the necessary awareness and knowledge on such aspects. We were provided with awareness on aspects such as fund allocations, budget proposals, and how to take the services provided by the councils to the people through the proper channels.
Women have been included to the committees that are attached to the council. I have been able to solve issues pertaining to a drainage system in my area. In addition, I have been able to initiate several projects pertaining to road development and providing drinking water, with the help of senior members of the party. I received assistance from the Members of Parliament from the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress representing the Ampara District in carrying out the above initiatives. They continue to support me to date.
Funding is the most important aspect as far as social service is concerned. My opinion is that the training programmes conducted through the NGOs must definitely include aspects on the possible avenues through which we could obtain funds. In addition, I also believe that women should be trained on how they should prepare for an upcoming election, and steps they could take to increase representation of women.
My goal is to embark on politics at national level, representing our women. It is important that I involve in politics at national level if I am to take the issues faced by women to the national level. The support for women who embark on politics must start from their homes. In addition, they must clearly understand the reason why they were elected by the people. Knowledge on various legal aspects and linguistic abilities would also go a long way in their political journey. Women have broken the notion that they belong to the kitchen, and have proved themselves with many achievements. Therefore, they should never hesitate or doubt themselves. They must stand up and be courageous at all times. All of those who have been elected must be honest to the people.
My request is that the proportional representation system, which was brought in to increase women’s representation, must continue to be implemented, and that their involvement and representation must be increased further through this system.
“This was prepared as part of the Female Councillor’s Capacity Development Project of One Text – with the permission of the councillor to publish the document.”