Her side of the capital | Daily News

Her side of the capital

Women need an invitation and a place at the table– Meghan Markle

The City of Love. The City of Peace. City of Order. The City of Justice. We all need it. We can’t live without it. In other words, we need to create Women Friendly Cities. This is why the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) has invited a non-profit organisation – Stand by Me to join them in the initiative to promote the idea of Women Friendly Cities. A city where a woman can feel safe and secure and a city where she can contribute to the betterment of society without hindrance. Daily News attended this Women Friendly City conference co-hosted by the National Chamber of Commerce and learnt about the exciting plans in store for all women and girls.

The strength of a woman cannot be underestimated. They have become too inactive. Women have been sleeping for too long. It is time for them to wake up and make an impact on society and fulfil their potential. It is time for women to take an active interest in politics and play their part in the governance of this country. President National Chamber of Commerce Sujeeve Samaraweera, in his address, pointed out that woman leaders have been dormant for a long time. Men can help. But women should have a desire to work for their betterment too. Women need to have that willingness to improve their lot in life. She needs to have aspirations of her own. She needs to realize her uniqueness. She needs to understand that she has the capability to be resourceful.

“What have our female leaders been doing? What have they done since the time when Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the first woman prime minister in the world? That achievement was a long time ago. Since then what have our women been doing? There is very little female representation in parliament and in politics. So this is the type of event that the National Chamber of Commerce is proud to be a part of. Because we are giving women a place in our country where they can lead productive lives. There is much discrimination against women in this country and women face a lot of challenges. Now is the time to create women-friendly cities where women can feel safe and secure,” said Samaraweera.

Sensitive towards women

A man can be a feminist too. If we are to change the way women are perceived and regarded then we need men on the side of women. A woman is a mother, she is a sister, she is a friend and she is a wife. She needs to be emancipated. She needs a place at the table when it comes to decision making. Strategic Advisor WUSC, Celene Fung, stressed that cities throughout the world should be female friendly. This is vital for women’s rights.

“There is a call for action. There needs to be a sustainable change for women. Cities should be sensitive towards women. There is a reason to improve human rights for women. We need to look at the community in a broader perspective. Even men should be included in this initiative. We need to improve the quality of life for women. Women need to feel secure in their homes and in their workplaces and on the streets. This initiative must be taken up by everyone in Sri Lanka because we have a duty and responsibility towards our women,” said Fung.

Fung also emphasized that the more people raise a voice, the more the community will improve. There are no results like instant noodles. Progress will take time. We cannot have overnight results. Rome was not built in a day. Progress at times will be very slow, yet we have to keep on trying for the sake of our women. There will be times when we will feel frustrated. But we need to believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We need to persevere when it comes to women’s rights. We can never give up because then we let everyone down.

“People should be motivated and excited when it comes to women’s rights. Progress will take time but we need to start this sustainable change. We need to inspire women to take up this cause. We need to create networks,” stated Fung.

Rape and sexual abuse is a heinous crime. Because of this, female victims go into their shell. Sometimes they never fully come out of it. The victim is made to think that she is at fault when the truth is that a woman is never at fault. She did not ask to be raped. She did not deserve what happened to her. A rapist is a very sick person who does what he does, for pleasure and mostly to feel powerful. We need to start with boys, because if we can get through to boys then we have won half the battle. We know that boys even bully girls to win the approval of their fellow male peers and superiors. They think it makes them a man. The truth is there is nothing manly about humiliating a girl.

Formerly from the Directorate of Internal Intelligence, Vocational Training Authority and National Apprentice and Industrial Training Authority, Dr. Ajith Colonne, pointed out that it is imperative that young boys are taught not to objectify women. He outlined a case where a woman was raped by the friend of her husband. Then he blackmailed her by trying to get her to participate again.

“There has to be a mechanism to ensure confidentiality when it comes to blackmail and cases of sexual abuse. Prevention is better than cure. Some women are victims of circumstances. Because once you lodge an entry at the police it goes into the media. Then the woman’s reputation goes down the drain and then her family’s name also becomes tarnished. The same thing happens when she goes to the courts. She has to relive that mental agony. However, if we can have a mechanism of confidentiality where the perpetrator is severely warned of the consequences if he should commit the offence again, we might see a difference. We also need to look at our schooling system, where boys need to look at girls with respect, the way they respect their own sisters,” said Dr. Colonne.

Raise awareness

President of Institute of Town Planners Archt. Piyal Silva, correctly pointed out that 52 per cent of the population in Sri Lanka are women, stating that changes have to be made in our society for their well-being. “Just imagine how we can change this county if we can harness the potential of this 52 per cent. Now that would be real power. We can touch this country, we can create a force for good. We can make a difference in so many lives,” he said.

“It is encouraging that women are now getting into technical activities. More and more women are now coming into engineering. We need to create public places with sensitivity. We need to increase that feeling of security. This is where we come in as we implement urban designing. Attitudes have to change and respect has to come from the heart. We need to raise awareness,” he added.

Women are actually multi-talented. They are naturally versatile and they are naturally adept at handling a variety of issues. We need to raise awareness that women have a mind of their own. They have a personality of their own. They are mothers and they have sons and daughters. It is important for women to realize that men can support their cause, but they need to meet men halfway.

Building Economics and Chartered Architect and Quantity Surveyor Prof. Chitra Weddikkara pointed out that even though there are not many women in construction sector, they are successful in soft trades. “If you take soft trades like painting, tiling, and plumbing, women are very successful in these trades. They are well paid and they have a good life. But a women-friendly society needs to start at home. Women are remarkably multi-skilled. She manages the household and she does a job as well. Awareness is the key to creating women-friendly cities,” stated Weddikkara.

Apparently, the hospitality industry is a safe zone for girls with a lot of scope for improvement. There seems to be the very little hindrance. There are a lot of smart young women in places of influence. The atmosphere is favourable and helpful. Hotels like Hilton, Ramada, the Cinnamon chain and other hotels like the Taj Samudra have a strong representation of women in their hierarchy. Board Member of the Hotels Association Sri Lanka, Nirmo Thambapillai, said that the hospitality industry welcomes women.

“Girls are now thriving in this sector. There are so many avenues for self –development in the industry. There is no glass ceiling. They are secure and there is no harassment in this sector. There are ladies in high places in the hospitality industry. Our staff is very supportive of these young girls,” said Thambapillai.

There is a need to change the perception in society towards women. We know that girls get teased on the bus by some males. We have heard stories where trishaw drivers are rude and try to bully women when they inquire about the meter. A woman faces harassment on the roads, especially if she is westernized. She gets comments about her attire. This is, of course, ridiculous since a woman has the right to wear what she wants. It is her choice. Men who make vulgar comments about women based on what she is wearing cannot be called men at all. Recently there was an incident when an Indian woman was harassed in a plane by a fellow male passenger. Apparently, even planes are now unsafe for women. Girls especially suffer a lot, since this kind of bullying on the streets harms their self- esteem, especially when they are too young to realize that it is not their fault. They grow up believing that there is something wrong with them and that they are to blame. Bullying can kill and that is the truth.

Social Activist, Co-founder of Stand By Me, Elma Iqbal, said that female prisoner also is humans and that they face many issues, like sexual abuse and separation from their children.

“The importance of women cannot be emphasized enough. They are part of God’s beautiful creation. Stand by Me is an organisation that stands for the rights of not only women but also men and animals. It stands for the rights of all living beings. A woman needs to fight for her rights. Do not let the perpetrator get away. We need to give women a voice. Take it to the boys’ school and educate them on women’s rights,” said Iqbal.


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