Sri Lanka, South Asia
Fellow Since 2012
Stand Up Movement
This profile was prepared when Ashila Mapalagama was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.
The New Idea
Ashila, a former FTZ factory worker herself, has established the “Stand-Up” labor movement as an alternative to the traditional top-down and male-dominated trade union movements that have failed to organize the vast majority of FTZ women workers. Her approach moves beyond basic protest against labor violations and instead focuses on how workers can collectively enhance their own social security needs and become more resilient by pooling their own resources. The self-sustaining social security system called “Shahana,” functions as an insurance system and compensates injured and unfairly treated workers while also allowing workers to borrow loans for emergency situations and aids them in pursuing legal action. This insurance system is funded through workers’ subscription and interest earned from the emergency loans. The contributors or ‘members’ become connected through this common objective and begin to see themselves as powerful actors to change the often dire working conditions they face. Breaking all barriers, Ashila has built a women-led movement around a vital social security issue affecting the laborers. Ashila is also working to expand this social security network to provide legal aid and protection to members who come forward to challenge unfair labor treatment. Ashila has taken this approach to support an emerging group of unorganized workers who are exploited by sub-contractors.