Statement by UN Heads of Agencies, Sri Lanka, to celebrate International Women’s Day 2006:
The theme of this years’ International Women’s Day — Women in Decision-Making: Meeting Challenges, Creating Change is of particular interest to Sri Lanka, where remarkable social indicators reflecting a relatively high status of women coexist with poor gender equality and empowerment indicators that are not in consonance with national commitments and international norms. This duality is best seen in the area of ‘women in decision-making’, which remains low, both in the private and public domains.
Despite seven decades of universal franchise and producing the first woman prime minister in the modern world, the percentage of women in parliament is only 4.4%. Similarly, women in decision making positions in the public and private sectors are significantly low. Despite high educational attainments and their significant contribution to the national economy, where a large percentage of women comprise the labour force of the top three foreign exchange earners, the tea industry, the garment industry and migrant labour, women are mainly clustered in the low paid levels. With the exception of a few women who have reached heights in their respective professional careers, the proverbial glass ceiling remains an impenetrable reality for the large majority.
The social norms and gender roles that underpin many policies and practices in the public sphere are directly linked to women’s position in the private, familial sphere. In fact women’s participation in decision-making starts in the family. In Sri Lanka, while women in general enjoy an exalted status as mother and the ‘solid foundation of the family’, it is also important to recognise that for some women, power imbalances within the family deprive them from making decisions as equals.
The Beijing Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women – to which Sri Lanka is a co-signatory – states that: “Women’s equal participation in decision-making is not only a demand for simple justice or democracy, but can also be seen as a necessary condition for women’s interest to be taken into account. Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women’s perspective at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development, and peace can not be achieved.”
The United Nations Country Team welcomes the Government’s commitment to remove gender inequalities in keeping with international norms such as the Beijing Platform for Action. We welcome strong commitments in the Mahinda Chinthana to expand economic opportunities for women; to establish legal measures to remove a range of gender-based inequalities; to implement the “Women’s Charter of Rights”; to address violence against women and to increase women’s participation in politics by increasing the number of nominations of women candidates in respect of Provincial Councils and Local Governments authorities to 25%.
On this International Women’s Day, we as UN Heads of Agencies will continue to encourage the Government of Sri Lanka to address gender inequalities and work for the empowerment of women.