65th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women
Interactive Discussion on
“Building Alliances for Women’s full and effective participation in Public Life”
Statement by H.E. Mohan Peiris,
Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
Wednesday, 17 March 2021 (Virtual Meeting), 4:00 – 6:00 pm
I would like to thank the briefers for their thought provoking presentations. The goal of gender parity, especially women’s full and effective participation in public life, is not exclusively a male or female issue, it is a human issue. It requires the collective effort of everyone. I am reminded of the words of the former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon when he said and I quote “Achieving Gender Equality requires the engagement of women and men, girls and boys. It is everyone’s responsibility” – unquote. A sentiment apt for today’s discussion surrounding building alliance to ensure women’s full participation in public life.
As a nation, Sri Lanka has made significant strides in the pursuit of equality. The commitment towards pro-equality and pro-empowerment policies have led to the integration of gender-related priorities into government plans and legal frameworks. We are seeing equal participation in the labour force, where women’s participation in the public sector has increasingly grown to almost 50%. Women are excelling in professions such as doctors, lawyers, judges, heads of universities and so on.
Women are also in the political field. A 25% quota is already provided at the Local Government level, and we are in the process of considering a similar quota for Parliament as well. Sri Lanka is home to the world’s first women Prime Minister and we even had a women President. We understand how important it is to challenge and improve existing frameworks to ensure women are supported when entering public leadership positions. Sri Lanka has a very vibrant civil society and their efforts have contributed much to the empowerment of women as well as to the passing of laws and institutional reforms related to women. Frameworks such as gender quotas should be looked at in conjunction with cultural perspectives. Culture and tradition influence power dynamics, a grassroots approach to sensitizing men and women to the issue of equality in public life would lead to a more sustainable/long term inclusion and would be central to alliances that promote women’s participation in public life. There is no one policy that fits all.
The current social climate requires careful navigation. Women are increasingly disillusioned with formal institutions and prefer to work in the capacity of social justice advocates. How can we involve those working in the margins to join public leadership roles? What changes, incentives or frameworks can we use to build an alliance between formal and informal organizations fighting for the cause of female representation in public life? It is our common responsibility to lead the process in creating opportunity for women. We must continue to speak out on the necessity to have women in public leadership roles and we must ensure that the very institutions that women seek to enter, must never pose the biggest barrier to entry.
Let us not forget that we need to have a clear path to empower/incentivize women who hold traditional roles to enter public life whilst placing a high value on the traditional roles played by women. Thank you.