77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly
Statement by Mr. Chathura Weerasekara, First Secretary of the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the UN
at the third committee under the subject 26 of the Third Committee Advancement of Women
Thank you for giving me the floor,
We are meeting today at a challenging period as the progress made in the context of advancement of women, like most of the goals, should have achieved greater traction.
As a result of the peculiar, tense, unusual environment created by the pandemic and prevalent lockdowns, we have observed that many women and girls have been exposed to exacerbated levels of violence. In this context, their access to effective assistance mechanisms, including social protection, psychological, sexual and reproductive health has also been severely impeded. This situation has posed a severe threat to the successful realization of SDG goal 5: to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
Although significant strides have been made in executing the WPS agenda now in its 22nd year , there exists a missing link, a tangible concrete pathway to engaging in private businesses, especially those working in conflict and post conflict environments to converge with the aims of the WPS agenda on women's empowerment particularly in private enterprise. What we are seeing are siloed business worlds; one world where businesses are increasingly adopting an employment policy that is viewed through a gender lens thereby committing to CSR initiatives of gender equality, and another world where UN and WPS supported corporate initiatives like ‘Business for Peace’ and the ‘UN Global Compact’ aim to drive businesses in conflict zones. Be that as it may, there lacks the contextual overlap between the two worlds, where the global business sentiment of women's economic empowerment tangibly leads to increased partnerships and programs in peacebuilding. It does not do us well if the good practices and progressive evolution of gender equality does not translate to economic opportunity in those areas that need it the most.
You will appreciate that female-founded businesses have been found to deliver higher revenue—more than twice as much per dollar invested than their male led businesses. Secondly, bridging the gender gap would add upwards of US$4.0 trillion to the global GDP. But this scenario is for this part of the world. Conflict affected economies are the most affected due to lack of foreign investment, mass emigration, skill loss, all which underscores a need for GDP growth. The numbers support the case for women's participation in businesses, and it is these numbers and data advocating for women's inclusion in businesses, especially in conflict zones, that need to be highlighted.
Complex conflicts and humanitarian crises continue to ravage communities and hinder the overall well-being and prosperity of societies. Women are often the most impacted by these crises, bearing the brunt of conflict and paying a higher price of the devastation – from increased gender discrimination and violence, to the waning of gender-sensitive structures and programming. Still, they remain largely excluded from participating in peace processes, despite overwhelming evidence showing that women’s involvement in peacebuilding and mediation leads to lasting, positive peace that goes well beyond just the silencing of guns.
Although important strides have been made since the adoption of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 in 2000, women’s direct participation and representation in formal peace processes continues to be the one area that lags behind in the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. Between 1992 and 2019, women served as only 6 per cent of mediators, 6 per cent of signatories and 13 per cent of negotiators globally.
The COVID-19 outbreak has shed even greater light on the full extent of gender inequality in contexts affected by conflicts, and increased the urgency of fostering gender-inclusive approaches to harness sustainable peace.
In this context, empowering women leaders to participate in peacebuilding becomes increasingly crucial. Women who participate in peace processes tend to represent broader and more diverse constituencies, ensuring a range of views and interests are represented and peace processes are fully democratized.
Further, UN aligned initiatives such as the UN Global Compact can push this agenda forward by recommending businesses operating in conflict or post conflict zones to elaborate in their ‘Communication on Progress (CoP)’ report, the initiatives undertaken to promote women's participation in local businesses by requiring the firms to adequately assess their conflict and business environment, to re-assess it beyond the typical profit/risk calculation alone. It is believed that by adopting such a protocol, we can create awareness of the blind spots that preclude equal participation of women.
Female inclusion and economic growth have a biconditional relationship. Academics over the years have understood that the presence of stability to be the best deterrent to aggression and war. Mr President, the economics is not so complicated, inclusion and economic partnerships remains the most sustainable option for long term peace and stability.
My own country, Sri Lanka, has a good track record of gender equality, both historically and culturally as clearly detailed in our recorded history for more than 2500 years. Our historical evidence provide ample evidence as to the significant role, played by women, enjoying such high degree of independence, equality, viability and decision-making opportunities both at ancient royal courts and in the contemporary domestic sphere, and thereby in public life. Therefore, in modern times, it was not surprising when Sri Lanka became one of the first countries to adopt universal adult suffrage in 1931.
In compliance with the articles stipulated in the constitution of Sri Lanka and in realizing the commitments made to the international human rights instruments such as CEDAW, the laws and policies of Sri Lanka has given due consideration to promote gender equality. The legal framework in Sri Lanka is in place to protect women and girls from sexual violence and in respect to many offences such as murder, rape, sexual abuse and harassment, incest, trafficking and child abuse. In 2020, the Cabinet of Sri Lanka has approved establishing a National Policy to collect sex and age disaggregated data with the ambition of designing development programs for women and children under the national policy framework. We also note with happiness that women’s representation in the Local Government bodies has risen to 22% in 2018 with the introduction of a quota for women.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the progress made by Sri Lanka in this area faced a slowdown in parallel to its global counterparts. The pandemic has imposed a heavier burden on female health care workers including nurses and midwives. It has slowed down the pace of progress of development activities in the country and impacted the programmes aiming at the empowerment of women. In addition, statistics have revealed increase of incidences of violence against women and children as a result of restricted mobility.
Against this backdrop, it can be said with pride that Sri Lanka has maintained the progress made in the context of its national machinery for advancement of women. For instance, the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs of Sri Lanka has launched a gender mainstreaming mechanism that covered all major development sectors and line ministries. The mechanism included establishment of Gender Focal points at the senior level of the said institutions, building sectoral staff capacities on gender mainstreaming and gender responsive planning and budgeting and establishment of anti-sexual harassment committees within the line ministries.
Currently, Sri Lanka is in the process of formulation of the draft National Women’s Policy. During this process, special attention is given to investigate intersectionality of women’s rights issues structured by areas such as ethnicity, social class, caste that may require additional policy interventions. In addition, action is being taken to repeal the discriminatory provisions of the laws towards women.
Sri Lanka is currently taking substantive actions to address the issues which include, inter-alia, conflict related sexual and gender-based violence towards women, trafficking and exploitation of prostitution and to strengthen the participation of women in political and public life and decision-making.
With less than 8 years remaining to realize the targets envisioned in 2030 agenda, it is vital that the subject of the advancement of women be treated as a top priority. With long-term and holistic policies, Sri Lanka looks forward to meaningfully realize the advancement of women in timely manner.
I thank you