Anuki Premachandra’s deep trust in a greater vision is what drives her on the regular: “It’s enough impulse to keep you going and to make you get out of bed every day.” As an #instagramaholic who is obsessed with finding out how social media works, it makes sense why she handles all Advocata’s comms. Driven and motivated, she recites her mantra, “I’m going to have a great day!” every morning as a promise to herself as she strives to make the world a better place for all women to live in. All hail!
What sparked your curiosity in women’s issues?
AP: When I was 16-years-old, my friends and I sat down for a quick chat on gender-based violence. The fact that domestic abuse was occurring at the rate it was, kids were beaten by their parents, and that women had no place to go and were tolerating it blew our minds!
We were so charged with an ache to do something, we started a blog, “Speak Up”, and offered opportunities for people to write to us. We had an inbox full of experiences of kids who dealt with a plethora of issues ranging from owning their identity to unwanted advances they were subjected to when they were young. It was an eye-opener for me to see what goes on and how Sri Lanka was doing so little to help.
The work I’ve done with the Advocata Institute focuses on taxes imposed on sanitary napkins, their affordability and how that translated to women’s health and poor menstrual hygiene practices. During this years’ worth of work, I’ve realized what a disastrous situation our menstrual hygiene sector’s in. Besides sanitary napkins being challenging to afford, there’s also a lack of understanding of what menstrual hygiene is. It’s considered a taboo so no one talks about it—you celebrate when a girl gets her period for the first time and then, it’s all hush-hush!
Sex education plays a big role in improving menstrual hygiene. What do you think the government should do in this regard?
AP: It has a lot to do with people championing this cause, even female politicians rarely speak up. I think women need to amplify their voices, especially when it comes to menstrual hygiene. You need to reduce taxes and break down the taboo among policymaking circles so that women’s issues are brought into the limelight.
It’s frustrating, we’re pretending that sex education shouldn’t be a thing. I recently read a statistic in a United Nations Population Fund address which stated there’re 650-1000 abortions every single day in Sri Lanka. If that doesn’t tell you that we need sex education in this country, I don’t know what will. They were attempting to distribute this book, Hathe Ape Potha recently, which talks about sex education. I think most issues like menstrual hygiene are a result of the lack of sex education. People aren’t conscious of how to practice basic hygiene. The government should understand the importance of sex education, open their eyes and incorporate the discussion about these topics in syllabuses or even make an active effort to talk about these issues.
As far as women’s economic issues go, what’s an issue that rarely gets attention?
AP: One thing that we need to address better is the lack of women in the labour force in Sri Lanka. A recent World Bank stat stated only one in 3 women work which is very disappointing. Although the rest of the world has evolved (the west specifically), in Sri Lanka, it’s primarily our moms taking up the care burden. We don’t have paternal leave (we only have it for three days—I mean what’re you going to do in three days?), which is something no one ever talks about.
Women are still subjected to societal suppositions. They’re educated and graduates but are expected to stay at home and look after the children. It’s alright if this is what you choose to do, but, it needs to be a “choice” you make. Right now, it’s something that is forced on you.
This as an economic issue. 52% of our population is women; if only one out of three is working, then look at the manpower, productivity and expertise we’re missing out on. We’re out as a country by not providing these women with a safe platform to work and conforming them into social structures.
Women rarely get taken seriously in this country, especially when they’re talking about serious issues. What is your advice to our fellow #GirlBosses who wish to make a difference?
AP: Just do it.—since we live in a digital world, everyone’s a keyboard warrior anyway. People are often let down by it, I mean you initiate something and you put it out there, and then you have people telling you lots of things on how you should’ve done it differently and why you shouldn’t be doing it. But, I just think you should just do it!
Photography by Amitha Thennakoon. Art & Direction by Ricky De Silva. Videography by StoryWorks.