Towards the social and political empowerment of Sri Lankan women
Child Development and Women’s
Empowerment Minister Sumedha G. Jayasena, in an exclusive interview with
the Daily News to mark the International Women’s Day, outlines the
achievements of Lankan women and the challenges and problems they face.
Q: What are the burning problems
faced by Sri Lankan women at the moment and are there any remedies?
Child Development and Women’s Empowerment Minister Sumedha G.
A: Sri Lankan women have the same problems faced by women living in
other countries in our region but our women have marched forward. For an
example several women passed out as women paratroopers recently.
We had many brave women in our history such as Sugala Devi and even
today there are such women. But the problem is that some characteristics
of our culture do not let women come forward. Other problem is 75 per
cent of our women belong to the impoverished rural community.
There is no proper strategy/institute with lodging facilities and
other requirements to train rural women for foreign employment and for
the employments in the Free Trade Zones.
They just come to Colombo and go abroad with no knowledge, no
experience, no English/Arabic language proficiency and survive in the
middle of several problems. No bank comes forward to give loans to rural
women entrepreneurs who do not have valuable assets.
Here I am not talking about free education or free vocational
training. I am talking about National level institutions/organisations
and policies. We have a voice but it is not enough. We have to request
others to join hands to raise the issues.
Q: What are the problems existing in
Sri Lanka when it comes to women’s economic potency and what are the
steps that can be taken to address such issues?
A: Women represent fifty three per cent of the total population of
Sri Lanka. Their contribution towards National Production is 60 per
cent. They earn a significant amount of foreign exchange through working
abroad. Their contribution towards estate sector and the garment
industry is huge. But the amount of funds allocated from the National
Budget for the advancement of women is low and not adequate at all.
No politician who holds posts in provincial and National level can
assist women because there is no specific percentage of funds allocated
for the advancement of women. The amount of funds allocated to the
Women’s Affairs Ministers in the Provincial Councils is not adequate at
all. I will propose to allocate separate special `Financial Head’ for
Women’s Affairs from each and every ministry in the 2009 National
Budget. I will also propose to take a policy decision to allocate a
certain percentage of funds for Women’s Affairs from Provincial Councils
and decentralised funds.
I have already requested Plan Implementation Minister to take a
policy decision to allocate a special percentage of funds for women when
dispersing decentralised funds.
Q: ‘Financing for Gender Equity’ is
this year’s theme of the International Women’s Day. What is the
relevance of this ? What are the problems faced by Sri Lankan women in
A: The meaning of this is giving priority to women not only by the
Government or the National Budget. All the other State and private
institutions should do this. In Sri Lanka there are only a handful of
large scale women entrepreneurs. But there are many small scale women
entrepreneurs in rural areas who need assistance. At the moment we do
our best to connect them with banks, skills building institutions and
vocational training but it is not adequate at all. We have to do this on
a large scale covering the whole country and not a small segment like we
do at the moment.
Our small scale women entrepreneurs have resources but no modern
In foreign countries women hold very strong positions in top decision
making levels. They have strong and widespread networks or organisations.
Women are very strong in ‘Grameen Banks’ set up in countries like India,
China and Bangladesh. But here in Sri Lanka, it is doubtful whether a
person who climbed to the top assists others to reach there.
Q: The time has come to give maximum
punishments to persons perpetrating violence against women. This was
last year’s theme of the International Women’s Day. What are the
A: We never assess whether we achieved the target set for a year. We
never do this in any field. It is questionable whether we were able to
give maximum punishments to the criminals who committed crimes against
women and children within the existing frame of legislation. This is
questionable. The Child Development and Women’s Empowerment Ministry has
planned to gather data on women at National level in order to formulate
a five year plan.
Q: Women’s representation in
Parliament and politics is not satisfactory at all. How do you perceive
A: I like to start from myself. I did not do politics before the
death of my husband. But I had a good understanding on politics. The
people of Monaragala brought me into politics and stood by me. Most of
the women MPs in Parliament today have some sort of political
background. During the past I made a request from all political parties
to have more women in their nomination lists and the response was good.
In the 2006 Local Government election there were 4,739 female candidates
but only 69 of them won. The percentage is 11.74. We cannot bring women
into politics at once or overnight. We have to do it step by step. We
have to empower them first. Give them positions in grassroots level
organisations. This should be a must because most of the members of all
grassroots level organisations are women but they do not have decision
making powers even within women’s organisations.
Q: How do you see the contribution of
INGOs and NGOs towards the advancement of women?
A: INGOs and NGOs assist women in North and East under the purview of
Child Development and Women’s Empowerment Ministry. They supply Vanitha
Shakthi banks, self-employment and vocational training.
But women should be given opportunities to take part in the decision
making process in all voluntary organisations. Legislation should be
introduced to enable women to hold top positions in all such
organisations. This will be proposed to my Ministry and to the Registrar
of Companies soon.