Voluntary Social Service Ordinance of 1980. It was founded in the year 1930. It was founded by a group of women led by Dr. (Mrs) Mary Ratnam and Mrs. Cissy Cooray who realised that establishing Women’s groups in villages affiliated to one Parent organisation could help in raising the overall social, health and economic standards of women in their homes and communities. From its inception Lanka Mahila Samiti has been affliated with Associated Country Women of the World. Women are empowered by getting the opportunity to be exposed to all aspects of better family living, skills-training for income-generation, development of leadership qualities and the promotion of agriculture, health-education, credit and saving-facilities.
In the past 71 years a total of 4462 rural branches have been registered with the Parent association. 500 units of the Samiti are active in 500 villages in about 15 districts of the seven provinces in the country. Associated life membership has shown a steady increase through the years. Members of the Central Board to the Samiti are elected on an annual basis. The key office-bearers in the Samiti are the President, Vice-President, Honorary General Secretary and an Honorary Treasurer. The members of the Central Board meet every quarter and members of the executive Committee meet on a fortnightly basis.
The administration of the rural Samiti is divided into 32 unions. Each of the unions has a Samiti Representative associated with it and they act as liaison members between the Parent Association and the rural Samiti. These representatives work in close collaboration with the sevikas who are part of every union.
A programme called as the Small Enterprises Development Programme (SEDP) is run by the rural Mahila Samiti which is funded by USAID. Under this programme, loans were granted for activities such as paddy cultivation, brick making, cut-flower projects, packaging of spices and cereals, cultivation of pineapple and chillies, sewing, etc to encourage self-employment amongst the members. New samitis have also joined this movement and have started their own projects of self-employment.
United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) has assisted the Samiti in implementing their programme for the Reproductive Health of rural women. The main objective of this project has been the improvement in the health of the mother and child with the larger goal of improving the health condition of the rural community in general. This project was launched in the year 1997. Training and knowledge-dissemination are held in the form of lectures and work-shops. Specialised medical personnel have given lectures on health-problems, safe motherhood, importance of breast-feeding, nutrition, adolescence and its related problems, sexually transmitted diseases and prevention of AIDS and communication skills and strategies. All of these were conducted for the benefit of the members from the districts of Moneragala, Kurunegala, Gampaha, Kalutara, Weligama, Matale and Dambadeniya, Kegalle, Ratnapura, Puttalam, Matara, Galle, Badulla and Colombo.Some of the workshops were conducted for the awareness of both the males and females.
Sri Lanka Canada Development Fund has been assisting the Lanka Mahila Samiti in disbursing loans to the rural Samiti members in the districts of Gampaha, Kalutara, Hambantota, Moneragala, Ratnapura, Anuradhapura, Pilonnaruwa, Kurunegala and Matara. The loan was given out to the members to begin their own income-generation activities. Some of the activities started by the members include painting ornaments, making cordials or squashes, cement block-making, batik painting, paddy cultivation, etc.
The Samiti also runs a programme in association with the UNICEF on Women’s Human Rights. This was conducted in the form of a leadership training programme with special emphasis on Women’s Charter Child Rights. This was conducted in the districts of Anuradhapura, Matale, Kalutara, Ratnapura and Galle. The main goal of this programme was for the members to become aware of their rights and to obtain the knowledge and ability to handle their own affairs. Communication skills were also emphasised in the workshop to enable the participants to disseminate the knowledge gained to the membership of their own rural communities.
The Samiti also runs Day Care Centres in the rural districts to take care of the pre-school children belonging to those families where the parents are out of the house engaged in income-generation activities. Some of these Centres also receive assistance from the Department of Probation and Child Care. The Centres are run by Palikas who receive periodic training from the Department which also provides assistance to the Centres in the form of toys, kitchen utensils and donation towards the repair of buildings.
Those Centres run exclusively by the Samiti are under the direct supervision of the Samiti and the Centre personnel receive training and guidance from the Samiti. The actual monitoring activities of the Centres are done by the Pareekshana Sevikas and the Grama Sevikas of the respective divisions of the Samiti. The activities of the Centre also come under the scrutiny of the Organizers when they attend Sangam meetings in the area and any problems are taken care of by them in consultation with the Palikas. Some Centres are run on a self-help basis and are maintained in temples and other public places. All these Centres also receive ample assistance form the Samiti. The Centres are provided with books, pencils, rulers, erasers and toys.
The Samiti also runs a Craft Sales Centre which has its own Chairman and Committee members to look after its activities. Under the sponsorship of the National Crafts Council the Samiti runs a Wetakeiya handicraft class in Gampaha district for some interested members. The income generated from the wetakeiya products sold has made some of the members financially independent and secure. In Matale district, training classes are conducted by the Samiti in sewing and knitting. Some of the income generating activities practised by the members of Kurunegala district are agriculture, home-gardening, weaving mats, hats and hand-bags. The members of Kegalle district in the Sabaragamuwa province make Hana fibre mats which are marketed through the Lanka Mahila Samiti Sales Centre at Colombo. Members of the Samiti in the southern province of Galle engage themselves in income-generating activities like home gardening, agriculture, chena cultivation, lace making and making handicrafts out of wetakeiya and coir. In the other southern district of Matara, hand made lace and patchwork cushion-covers made by the members are sold through the Crafts Sales outlet at Colombo.
Lanka Mahila Samiti regularly takes part in the Crafts Sales held annually on locally-made handicrafts like ready-to-wear, lace, Beeralu-work, pottery, wetakeiya products, mats, baskets, batik paintings and ekel products.
The key-contact person at the Samiti office at Colombo is Ms. Ranee Herath who is the President. There are 30 members of the staff employed on a permanent-basis along with 8 temporary staff.
Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW)
Sri Lanka Women’s Conference
The Central Council of Social Services
Lanka Mahila Samiti works in collaboration with:
Min. of Women’s Affairs
Dept. of Probation and Childcare Services
The Girl Guides Association
The Family Planning Association
The Family Health Bureau
STD/AIDS Control Programme