By Karu Jayasuriya –
Felicitating Sri Lanka’s Women Changemakers is a laudable initiative since we have an opportunity to salute female achievers of the past, and celebrate the present.
This project initiated by the Women Parliamentarian Caucus, together with the Sectoral Oversight Committee on women and gender (SCOWG), with a view to strengthening democratic governance and accountability, no doubt, can also mobilize the capacity and commitment of Sri Lanka women towards their full emancipation.
In our history, it is recorded that there were several prominent women who acted as change-makers of our society. Among them, the late Hon. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who became the first female Head of the Government of the modern era, stand out as an iconic change leader.
I am honoured that I have been invited to unveil a portrait of Mrs. Bandaranaike on this occassion at the launch of this project. In fact she brought honour to our country by becoming an internationally recognized path breaker, through her leadership in the Non Aligned Movement.
I observe that you will today recognize several categories of Sri Lankan female changemakers, including those who were the 1st in their field and those who are still involved as change leaders in ongoing projects in various fields of social, political and economic activity.
Recognizing them at this juncture, not only encourage them to do even more good, but will inspire 52% of our population made up of women, to become even more active and inspire them towards greater achievements that will benefit our society at large.
I wish to compliment my women parliamentary colleagues for the interest they have taken in this initiative. I trust that they will use this project as a tool to further encourage Sri Lankan females to become active change agents themselves. In particular, those under privileged must be supported to seek greater equality, greater freedom and strive for success in their lives by emulating those whom we celebrate today.
In this occasion, let me congratulate all the female changemakers you have identified. I wish to recognize the important role played by each of them through their work. They must be encouraged to mobilize public through their work for promoting human dignity and reconciliation among communities, as well as for promoting social and economic progress and respect for rule of law and discipline in our society.
Some of our females have been changemakers at grass-root levels too.
For instance, midwives who are spread over every corner of this country, for long years, have ensured that Sri Lankan mothers survive childbirth and infants safe at birth. As a result, our infant mortality is comparable to that of developed countries. Such female changemakers have enabled our people to achieve high physical quality of life and good health indicators.
Let me on this occasion also recognize Sri Lankan females who have achieved professional success in almost every profession say, as doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, and in the administrative and foreign service. Today the majority of those entering those professions are females, manifesting not only their abilities but opportunities available to break through glass ceilings.
Nevertheless, adequate participation of females in our social, political and economic system is far from satisfactory. In politics, and in Business, female representation is well below the required levels and constrained by several factors. This requires our attention.
I encourage all of you to assess the situation carefully with a view to taking targeted individual and collective measures towards creating opportunity and providing redress for females wherever there a need. We have to run the last mile now and I reckon this can be the hardest.
For last few years the government has taken several initiatives for facilitating freedom of action for female civil society representatives to campaign for greater rights and for seeking and enabling international assistance for programmes designed for this purpose. Assistance of our international partners in these efforts have been invaluable and I wish to thank them for their generosity.
On this occassion, I am glad to commend the budget proposals this year which contain several targeted measures to encourage female participation in economic and social activity. Let me recall some of those proposals;
Commercial establishments with more than 250 employees are encouraged, to provide child-care facilities;
Selected schools will be supported to establish After-School and Vacation Centres (ACVC) within the school itself;
The private sector will be facilitated to establish child-care facilities, through the “Rekawarana” concessionary Loan Schemes of “Enterprise Sri Lanka.”;
The Ministry of Women and Child Affairs will issue the necessary guidelines and the regulations for establishment and operation of Child-care Centres, After-School & Vacation-Care Centers, and similar facilities;
The private sector is encouraged to support working mothers by providing mandatory 3 months and further extended maternity leave, through concession in relevant corporate taxation;
Establishing a facility for training in arts & crafts, and other productive livelihood skills for women convicted of minor offenses;
Debt relief for around 45,000 women who are residents of the drought affected districts who have availed themselves of micro-finance loans. This will be followed up with concessionary loans from the “Enterprise Sri Lanka” program and the Cooperative movement;
Government subsidies given to women-led SMEs; Loan or leasing facilities through state banks and 85 percent of loan installment or lease cost to be paid by the Government;
The proposed introduction of a mandatory representation of 30% women on corporate boards of all listed companies;
These proposed measures ladies and gentlemen clearly signal the efforts of this government for aligning our economic and social system with the needs of females.
Let me on this occasion congratulate the Sectoral Oversight Committee on women and gender for their path breaking initiatives. Circulars issued on female genital mutilation, and their work on inclusion of sexual and reproductive health education in school curricular are commendable. I encourage the caucus members to work independently and collectively to improve well-being of women in Sri Lanka through many more such initiatives.
Let me also express my profound appreciation for the contribution and leadership provided by the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Ananda Kumarasiri, not only for this occasion, but always in promoting empowerment of women as a true male champion of women’s rights.
Time has come for politicians to upgrade quality of our democracy in line with best international democratic practice. For this purpose, we will require more women in our politics. And I am confident that greater presence of females in the main chamber in this building will enhance quality of our debates and decision making, and indeed ambience, discipline and camaraderie in our meetings.
It is my hope that recognition given to the women changemakers today will engender greater interest in public and enable mobilizing women and indeed men towards encouraging greater female participation in politics as well. In conclusion, let me assure all of you that I look forward to working with you in the years to come for providing a better tomorrow for all females in Sri Lanka.