In the words of Mathan Justin Annamma: “Women and men are equally capable”
Authors: Zafran Packeerally and Rohana*
Mathan Justin Annamma, 35, makes dairy products and is the breadwinner of her family. She lives in Nedunkandal, a village in Manthai West, in Mannar District, Northern Province of Sri Lanka. During the country’s three-decade civil conflict, many families in the area were displaced, and some like Annamma have returned to their homes. She recently attended entrepreneurship trainings given by UN Women and Chrysalis, a local social enterprise, as part of a project, Empowering Communities to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls in Mannar, funded by the Government of Australia. UN Women carries out the project jointly with United Nations Children’s Fund and United Nations Population Fund. The project helps over 90 women entrepreneurs in Mannar to become economically independent and thus less vulnerable to violence.
I am a mother of two. My husband lost his vision due to a chemical cylinder explosion several years ago. Since then, I have taken all responsibility and have been working tirelessly to feed my family.
We didn’t have any means of living once we resettled here, I had to look for odd jobs for a living. Sometimes I got paid looking after patients in hospitals. Life was not easy at that time.
Even though I had the will to do something on my own, before this training, I did not have any knowledge about running a business, nor that women too can excel in business ventures like men. Thanks to UN Women and Chrysalis, I believe I am more knowledgeable now.
With the milk I purchase from dairy farmers, I produce dairy products like ghee [a form of liquid butter], curd and other sweets. I use the traditional method to make ghee and have been using my kitchen for this. But now I am building a small production area adjoining my house. I sell my products under the name We Can Products.
This training helped me a lot in building my capacity as an entrepreneur, which helped me start a boutique shop as well.
I am hoping to expand my business further by providing job opportunities to a few others. And I am planning to buy some machinery and produce yogurt. I want my products to be of high quality and lead the market.
I believe women can achieve anything they wish to. It is their determination that makes them stronger. In this society, men get paid higher than women when doing jobs, but women work the same as men, sometimes more than that. This needs to change.”
* UN Women commissioned Zafran Packeerally and Rohana, both of the Picture House, a creative agency in Colombo, to do the text and photos for this story.