Project: Culture and Conflict

This article focusses on the findings and recommendations specific to Sri Lanka from the Culture and Conflict project. Overall findings for the project can be found here.

Working across four countries, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, this research investigates the value of culture to women in conflict settings, seeking to understand gendered economic exclusion and its relationship to peacebuilding, economic agency and empowerment. It uses a cultural mapping methodology to explore how communities of women across different conflict contexts rely on coded and tacit knowledge to rebuild their lives and to understand how cultural practices continue to exist and resist in these challenging contexts.

The following article focusses on the findings and recommendations from Sri Lanka specifically. You can find findings for Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan linked here and below.

  • A culture-focused approach has brought together communities that had been fractured. The project took place in the context of risingviolent extremism that led to the 2019 Easter bombings in Sri Lanka. In this context, the project has brought people together that would likely never be around each other through the “peer committees of women” developed by AWAW, the NGO partner. Through the workshops, craft making and ongoing dialogue, these peer committees of women have become the weavers of in Batticaloa.
  • Training is valuable when the relationship is equitable and the process of implementation has symmetric power and deeper engagement. Women in training sessions are engaged in deeper more meaningful learning as the design of the project captures their profiles and lived reality beforehand. A covid survey of markets adds nuanced insights of practices of making allowing training to be absorbed better and valued more.
  • Material cultures are taken as a given and are poorly documented. Cultures where practices of making are central are often invisibilised due to being part of the everyday. Very often this is supplemented by gendered understandings of making and attached low status labour constructions. There has also been little written about Sri Lanka’s arts and crafts that maps current practices and their status since the late eighties.
  • Loss of indigenous knowledge and techniques. Traditional knowledge – embodied and tacit is slowly being erased through generational change. This is exacerbated by the political and economic crisis the country faces. These practices are often remembered with fondness but shifting access to cheaper raw material from outside Sri Lanka, are slowly replacing this knowledge and techniques. The regional relationships for trade in Sri Lanka includes supply chains from India and China within the creative sector. Very often this is damaging for the local eco system as chemical dyes, sold at cheaper prices, and easier to access are used by craftmakers.
  • Women’s role in peacebuilding in post war Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has peer committees of cross-cultural contexts, who have worked together to build peace and mend the social fabric that has been under stress since the war and post the Easter Bombings. These women use craft making as method to build bridges between communities impacted by war and violence.
  • Women are independent and literacy levels are high. Women who attended training are very capable of making their own notes and records of training. They shade cards to guide them through their work post training. This was a dynamic way of learning with visual aids that was entirely developed by the women of Mannar.

Sri Lankan Government and Peacebuilding Organisation

Future peace and economic dialogue should be integrated with ongoing conversations about identity and culture. Working within craft making and culturally significant and valued practices, builds and supports the collective Sri Lankan identity. Here unity of ambition, scope of enhancing quality of life, and access to opportunities are common across diverse population groups. Working within crafts provides a democratic and equal space for women irrespective of their individual identity constructs. The training workshops in Sri Lanka must be taken forward as a guide for how to productively engage communities living within conflict and to promote inter-communal understanding and healing whilst simultaneously bolstering economic stability.