“We must tell girls their voices are important.” Malala Yousafzai
Women are among the highest contributors to our economy. To the Sri Lankan economy, women contribute from US$ 6billion worth of foreign remittance. A large proportion of female domestic workers based out of the country work tirelessly to earn a living and provide education and support to their households back at home. Women’s contribution to the domestic textile industry which largely contributes to export earnings is an aspect Sri Lanka can boast of. Further, in a traditional aspect of Sri Lankan economy, women’s contribution to the Ceylon Tea industry is remarkable. Despite three decades of civil war producing 40,000 war widows, these women bolster on as the bread winners of all these families in Sri Lanka.
With such sacrifices and achievements continuously being made by the women of Sri Lanka, the savage acts of the recent past shed light on the true situation in some women’s treatment in the country. An 18-year-old school girl in Pungudutivu of the Northern Province was gang raped and murdered in the most brutal of ways. This act is a lasting disgrace upon our society. It is not the first of cases as our nation has a high percentage of rape and other forms of sexual abuse.
The reaction of the community was transmitted through the world. One hundred and thirty protesters were arrested during the demonstrations, police officers transferred and now detectives of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) are between investigations to finalise whether or not anti national groups played a role in incidents.
The power of citizen action is notable in such incidents repercussions through the world- particularly powered by the speed and access to social media. In the case of Delhi and many places incidents through the world an empowered vocal citizen voice pushes authorities to take swift action. The locally released video released on social media of a police officer using racially motivated and disrespectful language at an Jaffna woman embodies the effect citizen journalism may have in terms of awareness of the broader communities through both Sri Lanka and the world .Traditional hierarchical structures are being challenged by the power of the citizen. The people could change powerful dictators and regimes which ruled longer time by amending constitutions.
The post war human resource development in war affected areas of North East should have been a top priority as youth in these areas mostly living off remittances sent from overseas is idling and see no future. Crime will increase in such an atmosphere. Youth development programs to improve their livelihood and social life remains crucial in post war rebuilding. Government, private sector and public could and should play a role to introduce new programs for the youth human resource development. It is essential to strengthen the women and child protection in our country especially as a nation which maintains highest regard to Buddhist values. As the Buddha clearly states in a sermon that a good way to measure the development of a nation is how that country respects and protects their women and children. This is the barometer that has gone wrong and we need to invest to protect and create a better environment.
Sri Lanka once was the proud nation that produced the first female Prime Minister which now presents insignificant women parliamentary representation at most levels of Governance. According to former President CBK she tried so hard to increase the number of women representation but she failed due to lack of support from the political organizers and the grass root levels of society across the country.
It is further important for the religious leaders also to play a role to remind the values society which seem to be fast diminishing. Programs such as Global Dignity educate on values of respect and dignity of life to school children. The value of peace and gender equality and sex education subjects of school curriculum could be introduced to teach respect and dignity for both sexes and all ethnic groups to live in harmony. Education Ministry, Ministry of Child Affairs and Women’s affairs, Child Protection Authority should be equipped to strengthen society and institutions with proper resources and budget. However the core responsibility lies in the hands of every single one of us, to ensure we educate our sons, to make sure we leave this place safe for the next generation.
Overseas Sri Lankan Worker protection scheme such as in Philippines have in place a comprehensive and sustainable mechanism which clearly teaches the overseas workers of their rights to fight back when they are in a difficult situation. A program introduced in this regard by the author while at Chairman foreign employment was terminated by the former foreign employment minister. This initiative “Saurin Ethereta” was developed with the assistance of Ernst & Young could be recalled as it focuses on the most important areas to improve the quality of foreign employment. An online job bank to apply for overseas jobs without informally appealing to politicians for letters of recommendations was also introduced during this time. Unfortunately it was stopped after some time. It is upsetting to watch the uprooting of seeds of ideas and institutions over the more sustainable approach of furthering the efforts of predecessors. Political actors and institutions in our island develop our national development strategies for the short term. Election policy is a key determinant thus making plans on the short term limiting effort put into on consistent policy and a long term vision necessary for the sustainable development of local institutions.
A sustained transition to completely stop the unskilled workers should be looked into. Our nation instead of being dependent on, should work toward ending the labour flow of women as housemaids to other nations. Sri Lanka has in place over 1500 foreign employment agents under the present regulator. The distinction between genuine agents who keep in mind workers right and those who do not in another point for authorities to take up. It is the politicians duty to work towards creating dignity in labour jobs in one’s own country instead of packing unskilled labour in the thousands to other nations.
As we commemorate the 27,000 soldiers and many youth who sacrificed their lives to eradicate terrorism to create a peaceful nation it is important to ponder on the youth sacrifices made during the war was to create a brighter and more hopeful future specially for the youth of our nation.