Sarah Soysa is passionate about her work, a feminist working in the field of sexual and reproductive health and gender issues, she is currently reading for her masters in gender and development studies at the University of Melbourne. She is the initiator of the first hotline in Sri Lanka which provides information on safe medical abortion as a way to provide accurate information to women and girls on safe medical abortion and contraceptives. She spoke of what inspired her to choose her career, and volunteering for causes she believes in.
Experienced Turned Aspiration
Sarah says that the experiences of gender inequality and injustice that she experienced throughout her childhood and youth motivated her to choose the human rights sector to work. “As a young person had limited access to accurate information and health services, specially sexual and reproductive health services and my knowledge on my bodily rights and the law of the country was very low. I am now working passionately to
make things different for the current and future young people so that they would be able to make informed decisions in their life defending and enjoying their rights,” she added.
Education & Passion
She further spoke no how education and passion could be linked, not disconnected. “In order to work in any field, especially in a country like Sri Lanka educational qualifications play a role. So the link between education and what one believes in plays a role and experience in what you choose as your cause matters,” said Sarah.
Among the organisations for which she has volunteered are national and regional organizations such as IPPF, Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka, South Asia Regional Youth Network, Commonwealth Gender Equality Network, YPEER Sri Lanka, Young Women’s Christian Association Sri Lanka and Australia, as well as Asia Safe Abortion Partnership. She is also a current advisor for FRIDA Feminist Fund.
“I started volunteering for the youth technical advisory committee of the Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka and YPEER Sri Lanka as a peer educator and a youth advocate passionate on SRHR and gender equality. I read and keep myself updated on current issues related to my area of work and always take necessary action where interventions are needed. I am surrounded by amazing young feminists and human rights defenders who makes me and keeps me motivated to do what I do,” she added.
A Woman Talking on Sex
“As a young woman I have faced many difficulties working in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights because of the taboo associated with it. I was judged, criticised and also challenged when people learnt that I advocate for safe abortion rights with a restrictive legal environment in the country,” explained Sarah.
She also added that the continuous threats and challenges on social media when discussing women’s rights, safe abortion rights, issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity is a challenge for the ensuring that the sexual and reproductive rights are protected.
“It is disheartening to see how lightly young women are taken in decision making fora, merely as a token of representation for the gender balance. To date young women are completely or partially neglected inn the discussions on policy changes, and designing of programmes that affect them. Decisions on women are taken without their active participation in the decision making process. This leads to neglecting the real issues, concerns and challenges affecting young women as well as to aggravating the situation that persist on rights violations aushc as increasing of violence against them, unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, psychological stress, increasing HIV and STI infections,” she pointed out.
Balancing Professional and Personal
Sarah believes that personal life is not a barrier for a woman’s professional life but mentions that your family and friends understanding what you do is important.
“Personal and professional life can be very well balanced for it to be the case, it is extremely important that your family members and friends know what you are working on. If you decide to work on a sensitive topic or an area such as sexual and reproductive health it is very important to start the sensitisation from your home and then move to your close friends and then to the community,” she added.
She also pointed out that it is important to acknowledge the support of one’s family and to find time for them while pursuing what one believes in.
“Making time for your loved ones and for you to take a break is very important. It increases one’s creativity. On a personal level it has helped me put things in perspective as well as be a better person. Passion is what drives you to work for a cause, being a happy person increases your commitment to it.”
Sarah wishes her work to improve the availability of safe, legal and quality abortion services for women in Sri Lanka especially for young women and other disadvantaged groups creating a space for them to enjoy their rights freely without discrimination or violence.