In January 2016, IFES Sri Lanka, as part of its USAID funded Improved Election Management Support Program (IEMP), conducted a three-day BRIDGE training comprising a two-day module on Introduction to Election Administration and a one-day module focusing on Gender and Elections. This represented the first BRIDGE training carried out with the Election Commission (EC) in Sri Lanka, and will serve as a springboard for further BRIDGE trainings to support capacity building needs identified by the EC and IFES.
The BRIDGE workshop took place on 27,28 and 29 January in Colombo and was was attended by 31 participants (27 from the EC and 4 civil society representatives). The facilitation team consisted of BRIDGE accrediting facilitator, Katie Ryan, BRIDGE semi-accredited facilitators from the EC, Nalaka Rthnayaka and Samantha Jayasinghe, and Vasu Mohan, IFES’ Regional Director for Asia-Pacific.
The training aimed to provide participants with an overview and understanding of international electoral standards and principles and how these relate to the work of the EC. It also focused on specific topics such as electoral systems – currently highly relevant to the work of the EC as it looks to change the electoral system. Gender and inclusion were mainstreamed throughout the three days to build participants’ understanding of their importance, and how they can be incorporated in a systematic way into the work of the EC. The training provided an important opportunity to build on IFES’ recent Electoral Integrity Assessment (EIA) for Sri Lanka which took place in November 2015. The findings and recommendations from this Assessment informed the breakout group exercises and topics.
In all sessions, participants learnt about electoral theory and international best practice, and then worked in groups to apply the learning to the Sri Lankan context. They were also introduced to the concept of ethical leadership, and had a chance to learn about and use transferable management tools such as Force Field, Stakeholder and SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis, to various strategic and operational electoral activities.
On the final day, participants focused on Gender and Elections. They were introduced to gender terminology, considered gender issues in the Sri Lankan context using the Agree/Disagree exercise, and learnt about the political, legal and business case for gender equality. These sessions provided the foundations for participants to consider electoral activities from a gender perspective, and think about strategies to mainstream gender in their work and increase gender equality. The module culminated in a lively and creative group role play, with participants selling a gender equality idea they had identified to senior management, using the ‘Elevator Speech’ technique.
Participants responded very well to the interactive methodology and gave very positive feedback on the training. As D.C Aravintharaj, an Assistant Commissioner for Mannar said:
‘This training has been extremely useful and I have learnt a lot. For example, I was not aware of the international electoral standards and legal framework – I only knew about the relevant Sri Lankan legislation and context. It is very important that I understand these standards and principles. I found the training on electoral systems particularly useful. We are changing the electoral system in Sri Lanka and people have been asking me questions about electoral systems which I haven’t been able to answer. Now I am confident that I can talk to the media and the public about the pros and cons of the different options.’
Aravintharaj went on to talk about the impact of the Gender Module. ‘At the beginning of the training, many of the participants were dismissive that gender was an issue at the EC. After a day learning about gender and discussing the issues, my colleagues recognized that it is an issue. This is a very positive step.’
In addition to the development of knowledge and skills, the training provided participants with an important relationship and networking opportunity between participants from the EC and civil society, as well as between EC colleagues. As Manula Gajanayake, a National Coordinator at CMEV (Center for Monitoring Election Violence) said: ‘One of the most useful takeaways from this training is the relationships I have built with the EC. The training was a brilliant opportunity to work together, especially as the observer groups and the EC can sometimes be at odds. The training will help improve collaboration and communication in the future.’