Hope for a better future

Apr 05 2023.

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As the youth of Sri Lanka continues to be a symbolic representation of hope for a better future, Hafsah Muheed transcends beyond the mere label of an advocate. Having ventured into multiple projects and campaigns that have earned the seal of approval by United Nations organisations such as the UNDP and UN Women, it can be confidently said that Hafsah’s contributions to integral causes such as the feminist movement and climate action have been beyond exemplary. Hafsah enlightens us on her journey of advocacy in which she delves into the roots of her passion for advocacy and how she has successfully become a representative voice in the community.

Q    Tell us a bit about what inspired you to be an advocate for gender equality. 
When I was schooling, students were asked to take back home the used menstrual pads in our school bags as we had no way of disposal due to waste not being collected. This was not hygienic and did not work in the long run. Few of us organised and spoke to the teachers because the challenge was getting people to talk to us as periods are usually considered a taboo.  Then as a member of the debating team, we were researching discriminatory laws and I came across the Muslim Marriage & Divorce Act (MMDA) of Sri Lanka and realised the violation of rights that was happening to us and that I was unaware of it, which was very despairing.

The very fact that Muslim women and girls cannot sign their own marriage certificate and the absence of minimum age of marriage which was legally allowed was appalling. To even sit for the O/L exams we have to sign our own application, yet I live in a country where we legally cannot consent to our own choice in marriage. This led me to spend time become aware of what was happening around me and drew my focus to people who cannot access mainstream support or speak about their issues and I started out as a grassroots volunteer. 

Q    You were the driving force behind the Think before Share campaign and you were recognised for it by the UNDP. What was the campaign about and what kind of an impact did it make? 
‘Think Before Share’ focuses on how disinformation impacts different genders. We spoke to young people from across the country to understand their experiences of disinformation. As a result of this, they shared how important it was to have a space to share their experience and people reached out to us for support for experiences they encountered which were various forms of online gender-based violence. 

Q    You are also the founder of Amplifying Impact, a youth-led feminist organisation. What are some of the objectives you wish to achieve? 
Amplifying Impact is an informal youth-led feminist organisation focusing on being inclusive by being accessible. We work at the grassroots with marginalised and vulnerable communities who cannot access mainstream support.  The objective is to enable to lead their own development and have spaces where they are able to lead and make decisions about their rights and choices.  

Q    Tell us a bit about your work at ‘Sri Lanka Unites’, a youth movement in Sri Lanka that is focused on peacebuilding and reconciliation. 
I am privileged to be working with young people on peacebuilding and reconciliation. Being a part of the Board, we play an oversight role in terms of governance and keeping each other accountable as a team. We look at what development looks like for a grassroots youth movement working across Sri Lanka and how we grow into the nexus of peacebuilding. Initiatives such as SLU Kids, Hate Speech Countering Unit, and the reconciliation centres are led by young people as we work towards positive peace. 

Q    You are also a part of the 30 for 2030 initiative conducted by UN Women. How will this initiative help combat the dire issue of gender inequality?  
30 for 2030 as a youth leadership network that brings together young decision-makers, eminent civic and business innovators, feminists, entrepreneurs, technology pioneers, educators, activists, artists, journalists, and more. The network acts as an advisory community.  

Our first campaign was focused on 16 days of activism, ‘Am I A Feminist’ focusing on demystifying feminism and understanding the intersection of gender-based violence and how it is linked to other social issues we experience in our day-to-day lives. This allowed us to take the first step in having open conversations with people confused about feminism but open to learning. We also co-created a toolkit which is a Youth Guide to End Online Gender-Based Violence by young people for young people with UN Women APAC. We have a few more things coming up in 2023!

Q    You were selected as a youth delegate for the 2020 YOUNGA Forum. Tell us a bit about your experience.  
I co-led an amazing team which focused on SDG 3 health and mental well-being thematic area where we conducted global youth consultations on what young people’s needs are in terms of their rights, advocacy and accountability.  I also contributed as a task member to thematic areas of Peace & Justice and Climate Action & Sustainable Living.

Q    Which advocacy are you most passionate about?  
I am passionate about cross-sectoral solutions and locally-led development. No social issue is singular in consequence. To retain meaningful progress, when looking at an issue, it is critical to understand the cross-sectional impact. Cross-sectoral solutions are understanding the need for interconnected solutions and different angles when designing policies or programmes.  

The other important focus is locally-led development. The challenges faced by different people stem from their lived realities. Respecting that community expertise and enabling them to implement solutions. It is the first step in sustainable solutions that address the complexity of social issues. 

Q    In your opinion, what do you consider to be your biggest achievement?
My biggest achievement, I would say, is being a grassroots volunteer and learning how to support hands on. I love being able to work in this space and learn from lived realities, which I would say is quite an achievement.

Q    What are your plans for the future? 
I am looking forward to working as a consultant and looking forward to seeing how best I can support locally-led development! 

By Tiranya Ranasinghe

 



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