President Ranil Wickremesinghe said that we cannot be satisfied with the status of women in the Asian region, but compared to other countries in the region, Sri Lankan women are ahead and that situation will be expanded further and work will be done to win women's rights like in the developed countries of the world.
The President highlighted that the ‘National Policy on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment’, as well as the ‘National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security’, will aid in achieving this goal. The progress made over several years of hard work will be unveiled on International Women's Day, which will be a significant milestone for women in the country.
The President highlighted that the SAARC organization does not have any specific provisions related to women's rights. To address this gap, Sri Lanka will be hosting a meeting of leading women activists from SAARC countries this year to advocate for the inclusion of women's rights within the organization's framework. Sri Lanka will take a leadership role in championing the rights of women in the Asian region, and are committed to working towards achieving gender equality and women's empowerment in all areas.
President Wickremesinghe expressed these views at the International Women's Day celebration held at the Battaramulla Waters Edge Hotel today (08). The Ministry of Women, Child Affairs, and Social Empowerment organized the event under the theme "She is the pride of the Nation".
During the event, State Minister of Women and Child Affairs Geetha Kumarasinghe presented the National Policy on Social Equality and Women's Empowerment, as well as the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, to the President.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe awarded honours to strong and accomplished female characters on International Women's Day, 2023. Awards were presented to Dr. Sujatha Aththanayaka, Kalasuri Sriyani Amarasena, Rashmi Nimesha Gunawardena, and Anula de Silva. Certificates were given to the top 25 female entrepreneurs chosen at district level with the intervention of Sri Lanka Women's Bureau.
President Wickremesinghe further said:
“The Ministry of Women's Affairs is celebrating the International Women's Day under the theme 'She is the pride of the Nation' for the year 2023.
The President expressed gratitude to the State Minister, the Secretary, and all those involved in organizing the event. He also acknowledged the State Minister's efforts in assuming a significant role in the on-going work by traveling across the country to promote gender equality and women's empowerment.
During the period between International Women's Day 2022 and this year, significant changes have occurred in the country, primarily due to the economic collapse. The people of the country, including women and men, have suffered greatly, and there is currently a debate as to who is responsible for this situation. While various names are being called out in this discussion, the President noted that none of them are women. Therefore, women should not be held accountable for this incident.
The Governor of the Central Bank and I have signed a letter to declare agreement on debt restructuring, after consulting with supporting countries, as well as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. The International Monetary Fund responded positively to this development, as of yesterday.
When reflecting upon those who contributed to freeing the people from the sufferings experienced during the past, I think it is important to mention the names of three women who played a significant role.
I would like to acknowledge Nirmala Sitharaman, the Finance Minister of India, who played a vital role in providing a $3 billion loan to Sri Lanka after the country was declared bankrupt last April. Her decision to discuss the matter with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet and to provide the loan to a country in such a dire financial state was a remarkably courageous act. Without the availability of those funds during those three to four months, the current situation in the country would be far more challenging, and for that, we must express our gratitude to her.
Additionally, a crucial role was played by several key countries in supporting us during this challenging time. Notably, our talks with the United States, led by Janet Yellen, the Treasury Secretary, were instrumental in securing aid for our country. I extend my sincere gratitude to her for her efforts in this matter.
I must also mention that Mrs. Kristalina Georgieva, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, made a personal sacrifice for Sri Lanka by taking the lead to negotiate with the countries, the Paris Club, the World Bank and others. If these three women had not supported us, we would have been in a dire situation.
On the other hand, no women are among those responsible for this problem. Women, on the other hand, were among those who assisted.
When we focus on these three women, we wonder why they are in these places and not in our country. Not only those three women, but so are President of the European Commission Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen and President of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde. The International Monetary Fund, the European Union, the US Treasury are all in the hands of women today. Women have been empowered to influence the economy.
Moreover, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Director-General of the World Trade Organization, and Cindy McCain, the new Director-General of the United Nations World Food Programme, are both women.
As a result, the majority of the work in this economic field that provides us with food and assistance is done under the leadership of women. We can rejoice that women have stepped forward in the past 50 years. This is due to the policies of European countries and the United States.
We have commenced programs aimed specifically at promoting women's rights. That is the distinction between Sri Lanka and other Asian countries.
When we focus on Sri Lanka, our first woman MP was elected 92 years ago. In 1960, the world's first female Prime Minister, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was appointed. But we have not made progress. Today, in some countries, the representation of women in the political field is at least 20% - 25%. We have not reached that stage.
Women have come forward in our administrative department. There is no question about it. Women's educational representation has also grown. However, a lack of women participation exists especially in the business sector.
To rectify this situation, two committees were formed together with the Ministry of Women's Affairs in preparing policy statements. Discussions were also held with the Women's Caucus of the Parliament. We must go further.
The Cabinet has approved the reports of these two committees and handed them over to me. Today, the ‘National Policy for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment’ and the ‘National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security for 2023-2033’ were both presented. We will not stop here. We will have a thorough discussion and solicit feedback on the proposed amendments.
Similarly, three drafts were prepared in response to our request in consultation with the Women's Caucus of the Parliament.
The Gender and Equality Act and the Women's Empowerment Act are two bills that the National Commission should discuss this month and pass into law at least by June or July.
In addition, Mr. Karu Jayasuriya is working on a bill concerning non-government public assemblies. It is suggested that the women's group in Parliament and the Ministry meet with him to discuss and include women's representation and rights in it.
Apart from that, we hope to establish a women’s and gender institute. This will enable us to carry out women's promotion programs. I hope to continue doing this work for women. It is a requirement of our policy.
Simultaneously, a large conference with women representatives from various sectors is expected to be held to discuss women's rights. We will identify those areas by comparing our female MPs caucus, the Ministry Secretary, and the relevant officials. I believe 500-1000 people will congregate there. We should talk to them about it.
Today, International Women's Day is celebrated across the country as well as the Ministry of Women's Affairs. Politics causes some of them to compete with one another, yet everyone should come together for women's rights and its implementation. The new program of the ministry entails carrying out next steps for those promotional programs.
But we must remember one thing. We are not in America or Europe, but in Asia. Similar initiatives have not been carried out in Asia. Women haven't spoken up in this way before. Looking at Asia as a whole, Korea, the Philippines, and Myanmar all had female heads of state. The rest are from South Asian countries such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. There are seven such women including Sonia Gandhi. But, we are not content with the rights that women enjoy in these areas.
Afghanistan has suffered a setback today. Women are not allowed to go to school or work. They are unable to exercise their rights. In this context, we will discuss this matter as South Asia; notably India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka as the SAARC organization makes no mention of women's rights. We have discussed together how to acquire these rights and the Ministry of Women's Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have mutually decided to host a meeting of the leading women activists of these nations in Sri Lanka this year.
Moving only Sri Lanka ahead in this situation won't be effective. It should be implemented in the area concerned. We are inspiring others to follow the same path.
Let's put these women's rights into action and gain them for women like in other developed nations. Women currently make up the majority of the population in this country. The rights of all of them must be upheld. Let's discuss this within and outside the parliament and move forward.”
Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena
“The charter that is being unveiled today represents a significant step forward for Sri Lankan women. Sri Lanka has never faced the challenges it faces today. It is now obvious that the Government under the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe has worked very patiently to move the country forward. You, as women, strengthen the effort to create that economy.
I suggest that the banking system in Sri Lanka should be liberalized so that women can enter the banking system to achieve the determination of women empowerment. Accordingly, every woman in Sri Lanka will be given the opportunity to open a bank account.”
State Minister of Women and Child Affairs Geetha Kumarasinghe
“The Cabinet has approved the women's charter, on which President Ranil Wickremesinghe worked very diligently on. It's historic to present it to him on International Women's Day. In society, a woman should not be isolated. They are all citizens of this country, regardless of their profession. They should understand that women are the pride of the country and treat women with respect who make up 52% of the population.”
Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Minister of Wildlife and Forest Resources Conservation Pavithra Wanniarachchi, State Minister of Fisheries Piyal Nishantha, State Minister of Social Empowerment Anupa Pasqual, State Minister of Health Seetha Arambepola, State Minister of Tourism Diana Gamage, Members of Parliament Sudarshani Fernandopulle and Yadamini Gunawardena, US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung, Japanese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Mizukoshi Hideaki , foreign Ambassadors and High Commissioners, a delegation representing various United Nations organizations, and officials including the Secretary to the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs Mrs. Yamuna Perera participated in this event.
President’s Media Division (PMD)