Women, an important segment of society, are believed to have the hands that rock the cradle, but are hardly given an opportunity to rule the world. Although there have been women in governance and other positions, they don’t walk on an easy path with patriarchy pulling the strings. But gone are the dark ages when women were confined to the four walls of the house. Today, women are holding firm ground and making courageous attempts to do something that they have always excelled in. Established back in 1979, the members of the Sri Lanka Army Women’s Corps (SLAWC) has been rendering its services in a much closed frame. But recently, it took a bold step to come out of this frame and make a difference by engaging in making peace and working towards the reconciliation of post-war Sri Lanka. In this backdrop, the first ever Sri Lanka Army Women’s Symposium based on the theme ‘Women : The Bedrock of Peace and Sustainable Development’ successfully concluded. The symposium attracted various females in leadership positions who shared their experiences and lessons learnt in the peace building and reconciliation process.
Established back in 1979, the members of the Sri Lanka Army Women’s Corps (SLAWC) has been rendering its services in a much closed frame. But recently, it took a bold step to come out of this frame and make a difference by engaging in making peace and working towards the reconciliation of post-war Sri Lanka
Women underrepresented in managerial, leadership and management positions : Army Commander
In his opening remarks, Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake, the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army said that women locally and globally have risen to greatness in different spheres such as nursing, management, defence, sports, space exploration and many other fields and are increasing their influence in the decision-making process. “As the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army, initiating the Sri Lanka Women’s Army Symposium was a timely venture to further improve and empower women with a vision. The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 has put forth the idea that women should be given greater access to leadership roles in peace and security and is aligned with sustainable development, gender equality and women empowerment. In Sri Lanka women are still underrepresented in managerial, leadership and management positions. The SLAWC was established with the preliminary aim of inducting women soldiers to the Army to carry out their duties. ”
One of the highlights of the event was the keynote address delivered by retired Supreme Court Justice Shiranee Tilakawardane who expressed her views on the topic of ‘Women Waging Peace’. Excerpts of the speech are as follows :
Conflict is a natural expression of social differences : Shiranee Tilakawardana
“The greatest compliment women were paid over the years and ages was ‘The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world’ in a bedroom somewhere and ‘behind every powerful man there’s a woman’,” Tilakawardana said in her opening remarks. “These were the stereotypes of the dark ages. I too in 1979 was the first woman state counsel, sounds good on paper, but I know every barrier, stereotype and all the hurt you women have to undergo. I know the pain. We didn’t have human rights or women’s rights on the agenda in 1979. But thanks to movements such as Hashtag and MeToo, thanks to people who are recognising that men and women are equal and that everybody is equal before the law, they are bringing out the types of behaviour that are appropriate for all people. Therefore men and women, differently-abled people, the old, the young and everybody else can have equal human dignity and respect. People call me a trailblazer but do you front-liners know the difficulty about it? You can’t afford to fail because it’s a line of half the population standing behind you.”
She further said that within the next five years artificial intelligence would replace drones and that the strength of skills negotiation and humanity will have to be in place.
“The Commander very correctly said that women have skills of gentleness and sensitivity. Of course we have those skills as you do. The stereotype is such that men wage war and today we can say that women wage peace. With that men and women will form a wonderful partnership. We talk of the fundamental document which is the UN/SC/1325 resolution which talks about women and security. This is the ‘guru norm’ that you have and it speaks of an important factor; which is, women inherently resolve conflict and are excellent at dispute resolution. ”
She also said that it is important to understand that conflict is not a negative force; rather it’s a natural expression of social differences. “If managed non-violently, it could be positive and a source of immense creativity and purpose. The goal of prevention is to create situations in which differences and conflicts are addressed in a non-violent and constructive manner. The second security issue is disarmament, de-mobilisation and re-integration. Corruption is not a matter of money in this field, but it’s a matter of life. It is a matter of the future of this beloved nation. Everybody is talking about transitional governance and security. We need something more than armies and uniforms and these great structures of Parliaments and governance.”
The symposium also included elaborate discussions by esteemed panellists on various topics such as the role of women in decision making and sustainable peace, role of women in institutional leadership, military women as a source of energy for socio-economic development, women leadership in nation building and women leadership in foreign policy making.
Participants at the Sri Lanka Army Women’s Symposium. Pix by Kithsiri De Mel