21 June, 2024


Gender Equality & Empowerment Of All Women & Girls In Sri Lanka 

By Rashika Saman Kumari Abesinghe

Rashika Abesinghe

Sri Lanka, officially known as the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a small island country in South Asia region. Sri Lanka is a multicultural country consists with different ethnic groups with various religious identities, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Muslim… etc. Sri Lanka has successfully cooperated with SDG goals applying them into its national policy framework. In a speech to the United Nations in 2015, Sri Lankan former president Maithripala Sirisena declared that “Sri Lanka is fully committed to dealing with the sustainable development goals”. There are several remarkable initiatives had taken by the Sri Lankan government to implement SDG goals. The most significant action is the introduction of the Sustainable Development Act in 2017, which creates the legal framework to implement SDG goals under the improved institutions & policy coherence. Under this act the sustainable development council has been established which contributes to develop national policies to guide new development projects. 

The definition & the role of the Sri Lankan women is mostly influenced by the traditional religious identities & social and cultural interpretations. Therefore, it is very important to examine the SDG 5 and its indicators which emphasize to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. SDG 5 consists with 05 targets and 15 indicators. But the lack of the reliable & recent data is a huge issue. The official data (Department of Censuses & Statistics in Sri Lanka) only available about the 4 indicators. The data are to be collected & analyzed for another 6 indicators through a new introduced survey or censes. According to DCS they are aware to collect data on one regional / global indicator and one indicator has recognized as not relevant to the country. So, this discussion is basically based on SDG 5 &5 indicators.

The condition of SDG 5 & its indicators in Sri Lanka 

Target 5.1. – By 2030 end all forms of discrimination against all women & girls everywhere

Indicator 5.1.1: Whether or not legal framework is in place to promote, enforce and monitor equality and non-equality and nondiscrimination on the basis of sex. 

Sri Lanka had implemented this indicator through the Sri Lankan constitution. The third chapter of the Sri Lankan constitution is the human rights chapter. The 12th article of human rights chapter presents the rights to equality. According to article 12, 

12 (1) All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of law. 

12 (2) No citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any such grounds. ,

12 (3)  No person shall, on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex or any one such grounds, by the subject to be any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to access to shops, public restaurants, hotels, places or public entertainment and places of public workshop of his own religion. 

12 (4) Nothing in this article shall prevent special provision being made, by law, subordinate legislation or executive action for the advancement of women, children or disabled persons.

The UNESCO’s Gender Mainstreaming Implementation Framework defines gender equality as women & men have equal conditions for realizing their full human rights and for contributing to, and benefiting from, economic, social, cultural and political development. Under the constitution of Sri Lanka gender equality had recognized as an important human right and we can recognize it as a positive step towards the sustainability of SDG 5 in the Sri Lankan community. 

Target 5.2 – Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation

Indicator 5.2.1: Proportion of ever-partnered women and girls aged 15 years and older subjected to physical, sexual or psychological violence by a current or former intimate partner in the previous 12 months, by form of violence and by age.

Source: Sri Lanka Demographics & Health Survey 2016, Department of Census & Statistics

After the enforcement of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (No 34 of 2015) there is a significant decline of domestic & intimate partner violations in Sri Lankan society. So, these reported intimate partner violations might be related to rural level alcohol addictions & dowry related issues. 

Target 5.3: By 2030, eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation

Indicator 5.3.1: Proportion of women aged 20-24 years who were married or in a union before age 15 and before age 18.

According to the Department of Census & Statistics, Sri Lanka the baseline data for the proportion of women aged 20-24 years who were married or in a union before age 15 and before age 18 as follows.

Source: Sri Lanka Demographics & Health Survey 2016, Department of Census & Statistics

As Sri Lanka is a multi-cultural country, there are two major types of laws remain in the country legislative system as constitutional laws & cultural laws. According to the Sri Lankan constitution (The General Marriage Registration Ordinance Act, 1995) the age of marriage is 18 years of both male & female. Therefore, generally the minimum age of marriage in Sri Lanka is 18 years for the citizens of the country except Muslims. Because, the Muslims, mainly guided by their cultural law, Muslim Marriage & Divorce Act and the minimum age for marriage is 12 years. So, there is a significant influence from the religion and cultural beliefs to the faiths of women in Sri Lanka. These religious norms, sometimes had become a huge challenge to implement this indicator. Not only in Muslim law, but also there is a tendency of underage marriages in the Sri Lankan rural level communities which were ruled by general law. The major reasons for these under age marriages are the rural poverty, broken family back grounds& lack of education. In order to implement this indicator it is essential to address those facts and community awareness can be recognized as one of the key elements in this process. Not only community awareness, but also social security measures should have to be developed. 

Target – 5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life

Indicator – 5.5.1 Proportion of seats held by women in (a) national parliaments and (b) local governments

In Sri Lanka since 1931women have represented the all successive parliaments to date. Hon. Sirimavo Bandaranaike defined as the world’s first female head of the government (Prime Minister) and the hon. Chandrika Bandaranaike was one of the remarkable presidents in Sri Lankan political history. But mostly the whole political system of the country is governed by men. So, women’s representation in the parliament is very low. Although Sri Lanka has 51% women, their participation in local governance as well as national parliament is 5% in total (Aboobacker Rameez: 2018). Therefor the government introduced the 25% quota system for women in local parliaments and it failed to achieve desired objectives. According to the Sri Lankan political culture, it is evident that the individual women who do not have any political family background cannot easily engage and establish in politics. Interestingly, most of the women who represent parliament or local governance belong have a political family background. Especially, many of them came to politics after the loss of their father or husband to fill that position. Even Sirimavo Bandaranaike & Chandrika Bandaranaike engaged with Sri Lankan politics after the assassinations of their husbands who were the renowned politicians of Sri Lankan. Also the aggressive & corrupt political culture has become a major challenge for women to engage with the country politics too. This situation had created a barrier to implement this indicator. Therefore, it is very important to address these issues through the policy developments and empowering law. 

5.5.2 Proportion of women in managerial positions

Source: Department of Census & Statistics

Sri Lankan family culture basically base on the concept of mother. In the beginning Sri Lankan women didn’t receive opportunity to engage with education or occupation. Their whole responsibility based on family. But after the introduction of free education system, they received a chance to develop their capabilities. It mainly influences for the women’s participation of management level employments. But still they are struggling to receive equal opportunities in Sri Lankan job culture. Because it is difficult to certify that the public &the private sector in Sri Lankan society is 100% away from gender discriminations. One of the major reasons is cultural influences. Because, previously there was a male dominated community system. This male domination patter still survives in the job culture and it has made less opportunity for women to work independently and receive equal opportunities. “In spite of steadily declining unemployment in the country, the female labor force participation rate has logged far behind that of males, a fact which points to some cultural and structural barriers to their entry into the productive regular labor force in the country”. ( Siri Hettige : 2017). The female unemployment rate is higher than men. Most significantly, the unemployment rate was much higher when the women were more educated. This situation creates a discussion that the less economic empowerment of women remains a major challenge in the Sri Lankan community to achieve the indicators of SDG Goal 5& its indicators. 


While discussing the SDG 5 and its indicators base on Sri Lankan community it is evident that there are a number of challenges which interrupt the sustainability& resilience there. Overall one of the major challenges is, still the gender gap & discrimination remain in the societal framework. Therefore, community awareness& policy development is essential. Meanwhile financing the SDG remains a huge challenge for Sri Lanka. Therefore, it is hard to improve investments effectively. This also creates a weak institutional capacity in Sri Lanka which directly affects to the sustainability. As a solution for these issues it is essential to develop awareness among relent stakeholders& building capacity of relevant institutions. Not only capacity building, but also it is important to have interventions under policy changes & resource mobilization. ESCAP (Economic& Social Commission for Asia Pacific) suggests that Sri Lanka needs an annual additional investment of 4.4 percent to provide a social protection floor (1.7 percent), Quality education (1.6 percent). These are the keys to reducing the gender gap and increase the live hood of women & girls. Not only the cultural & economic barriers, but also the highly corrupt, aggressive & polluted country political environment also affected to the implementation of SDG 5. Therefore, it is very important to secure an ideal political culture with suitable representatives who are having proper qualifications & vision. Implementing SDGs in desired 2030 is a difficult task for Sri Lanka. But if the responsible authorities can recognize the key issues correctly and apply the best solution there, there is a possibility to implement Sustainable Development Goals in Sri Lanka one day.

*Rashika Saman Kumari Abesinghe, Waseda University, Japan

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Latest comments

  • 0

    What is this “Gender Equality”? Aren’t all “Human Species” equal excepting the “Biological Structure”? That difference too is what Nature has looked into for the continuation of the species of all life. That is in no way an impediment to “ASSERT” everyone to be “EQUAL”. So, in short, there shouldn’t be a “Fight” for “Equality”. It is only a matter of asserting an involving oneself in all fields of human activities.

  • 0

    This male domination patter still survives in the job culture and it has made less opportunity for women to work

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