65th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women
Ministerial Round Table on
“Creating an enabling environment for women’s full and effective participation and decision making in public life”
Statement of Hon. Piyal Nishantha de Silva, State Minister of Women and Child Development, Pre-schools & Primary Education, Education Infrastructure and Educational Services
16 March 2021 (pre-recorded statement)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Sri Lanka is happy to participate in this Roundtable meeting focusing on the important topic of “Creating an enabling environment for women’s full and effective participation and decision making in public life”. Last year, we celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action that visualized a world where every woman and girl could exercise her freedoms and choices, go to school and participate in decision making process while earning an equal pay for work of equal value. However, the 25th anniversary came as a wake-up call with no country having fully delivered on the commitments of the Beijing Platform for Action. There remain many gaps and numerous challenges to addressing barriers to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. At the heart of meeting these challenges is the creation of a supporting environment that would allow for women’s full and effective participation and decision making in public life – the topic that we are discussing today.
Mr. President, Sri Lanka has recognized the invaluable contribution of women to public life having had women leaders who have played significant roles in all spheres of public life. This stems from the free and independent environment that exists in the country that allows women to reach their full potential. Investment in people is essential to develop human capacity and achieve social development. As such, the country has since 1945 implemented a universal education policy that provides access to learning free-of-charge to all girls and boys from primary to the tertiary levels. This ensures that no child, girl or boy is left behind and has contributed in women exceling in higher education. As a result, there is an increasing number of Sri Lankan women being engaged in all levels of the public, private, administrative and corporate sectors. I am happy to state that the majority of officers of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service are women. Similarly there is a higher percentage of women professionals serving in other key sectors such as medical, engineering, judiciary, legal and finance.
Sri Lanka has introduced a number of legal provisions in order to create an environment that would allow them to participate safely in public life. Our Constitution recognizes the principle of gender equality and non-discrimination as per the equality clause enshrined in Article 12. Effort has been taken to strengthen and amend laws that directly impact on women, their empowerment and their rights. Amendments were made in 1995 to the Penal Code, which was over 100 years old, broadening the types of offences against women and children to include sexual harassment, trafficking and procurement of women, grave sexual abuse, and cruelty to children and incest. Sexual harassment in the work place is a criminal offence under the criminal law of Sri Lanka. These positive changes to the law of the country have sent a strong message that Sri Lanka is fully committed to ensuring gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Mr. President, in addition, Sri Lanka is committed to complying with our obligations with respect to the international conventions and protocols signed and ratified in relation to women and girls. The Women’s Charter of Sri Lanka of 1993 fully reflects our commitment under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The process to ratify C190 ILO Convention on the Eradication of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work of will be completed soon thus ensuring enhanced safety and protection for women employees.
In addition to legal reforms, several measures have been taken to prevent and eliminate violence against women. Sri Lanka strongly condemns all forms of violence against all women and girls, including sexual harassment. Gender mainstreaming has been introduced in all Government Ministries, by establishing committees responsible for combatting sexual harassment in the work place. I must acknowledge the vibrant civil society present in our country that has contributed much to the empowerment of women. Their strong lobbying has sustained continuous interest in women’s rights and has resulted in the passing of laws and institutional reforms that have impacted positively on the lives of Sri Lankan women. This includes the setting up of complaint mechanisms to address sexual harassment within institutions of the private sector under the guidance of the Ministry of Women Affairs. Civil society groups and trade unions in collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO) formulated guidelines for a Code on Sexual Harassment to be adopted by companies. Such mechanisms ensure decent working conditions in the public space and allow women to access redress for their complaints expeditiously.
In line with the principle of zero tolerance on sexual and gender based violence, Sri Lanka has established an efficient reporting mechanism for victims to access and report their complaints. It is a toll free and widely publicized helpline. With the onset of COVID-19, this helpline now offers assistance round the clock enabling the government to provide rescue and protection to victims of violence. This mechanism includes providing Safe Homes for the victims until recovery from trauma and provides long term solutions with the support of counseling and other services. The Women and Child Abuse Prevention Bureau and the Ministry of Public Security are the two other agencies of the Government directly assisting survivors of violence.
Mr. President, we have taken measures to encourage women to enter in to 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. In addition to the provision of quotas, we believe that it is more effective if women are provided with educational opportunities to enhance their political knowledge enabling them to enter into politics. As such they will be equipped with adequate knowledge to participate in elections and enter into legislature. In this respect, we have designed a special Module at Higher Diploma level with one of the national Universities to educate women who intend to enter in to this field. At present, there are sixty female students following this Diploma course at the University of Peradeniya. On the other hand, we have initiated a dialogue with main political parties to convince them to consider nominating more female candidates with competencies so that they could be elected through the ballet.
In conclusion, Mr. President, I wish our deliberations today a success and believe that we will be able to enrich our knowledge and understanding of how to face the challenges before us. Sri Lanka reiterates its firm commitment to providing an enabling environment for women’s participation and decision making in public life.