Image courtesy – SJB Media Unit
- Although women have shone in every sphere of national development, entering the political arena has been riddled with obstacles for women
- There was a great deal of consultation with women’s stakeholder groups and research to identify the real needs that have to be addressed to empower women in Sri Lanka and create a truly enabling environment for sustainable development of women in Sri Lanka
In view of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25, the United Nations declared the16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence initiative. A parallel programme was launched by the Samagi Vanitha Balawegaya, the women’s wing of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya since November 25. In addition to programmes such as demonstrations, street dramas and island-wide protests, SJB MPs wore stickers with slogans to end violence against women during the Parliamentary session on November 25.
Empowering women under an SJB regime
Speaking at the event, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa shed light on how the party has given prominence to women even going to the extent of introducing a Women’s Charter during the Presidential Election. “This Charter was drafted in favour of the 51.5% women population in our country. I’m very proud about this publication but I’m sad that we could not fully implement it. Some of its proposals include establishing a constitutional commission for women and to give legal authority via an Act passed in Parliament, establish gender equality, ensure women are served justice, empower women who spearhead the economy, improve their vocational skills through training and education, improve maternal health for a healthy generation, implement women-headed programmes at political and social level, end violence against women, improve socio-economic status of women who were widowed due to the ethnic conflict or otherwise alongwith women in women-headed households and empower women to establish a happy family unit.”
He further said that by empowering women the Party is ready to bring about women-centric development without confining it to an election slogan. “Women labour force participation in Sri Lanka is on the decline. Women face challenges when they seek employment. Violence against women is a cancer that needs to be eliminated. It shouldn’t be confined to dialogues, conferences and publications. The law should be reformed to give maximum punishment to perpetrators. Those who represent the largely male-centric constitution may have primitive and archaic ideologies and would address the mother, sister or daughter as secondary citizens. If elected representatives in Parliament continue passing derogatory remarks without apologising, then there remains a question.”
He promised to serve maximum punishment to perpetrators of violence under an SJB regime while ensuring a fair judicial system. In addition he promised to appoint women to take the lead when taking decisions related to socio-economic and socio-political matters. “Orange signifies Elimination of Violence Against Women. As such I propose the Steering Committee to include orange in addition to light green and yellow which have been registered as party colours. This is to confirm that our approach to strengthen women’s rights is a practical effort rather than a mere political agenda.
Implementing the Women’s Charter for a better tomorrow
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Samagi Vanitha Balawegaya National Organiser Hirunika Premachandra emphasised on how the women’s wing has taken steps to empower women while drawing attention to their vision under a future SJB government.
State authorities have failed to address issues pertaining to women and children especially under the incumbent government. Cases of domestic violence, sexual abuse continue to pile up. What initiatives have been taken by the SJB women’s wing to address these issues and ensure a safer environment for women and children?
As enshrined in our women’s charter, SJB takes a strong stand on violence against women and children. SVB organisers islandwide keep an eye open for cases of violence against women and are committed to do their best by providing support including counselling and referring cases to our panel of lawyers. As evidenced by our 16 days of activism, we are also engaged in creating public awareness and lobbying for ending violence against women.
This Charter was drafted in favour of the 51.5% women population in our country. I’m very proud about this publication but I’m sad that we could not fully implement it
SVB organisers islandwide keep an eye open for cases of violence against women and are committed to do their best by providing support including counselling and referring cases to our panel of lawyers
The pandemic has affected small and medium enterprises, female breadwinners in rural areas have lost employment, many opt for migration and there are various loopholes in the struggle to get back to normalcy. Why should the government prioritise on assisting these vulnerable groups and how could it be done?
SJB is firmly committed towards developing the SME sector and entrepreneurship, which we view as the backbone of our economy. Women have great potential to contribute in this sphere. We understand that foreign employment is important in generating revenue for our country. However, we are strong advocates of safe migration and ensuring that the women who migrate for foreign employment should be safe. We are committed to ensure their safety, welfare and the welfare of their families under an SJB Government.
Our strategy for empowering women in business and women who opt for migration are detailed in our Women’s Charter. We realise how this sector has been badly affected due to the pandemic. As we are in the opposition, what we can do in this context at the moment is limited. However, our leader with the assistance of SJB parliamentarians and local and international well wishers have embarked on a programme to provide essential equipment to hospitals. SJB has up to now donated equipment worth Rs 99,250,000 to hospitals in various parts of the country.
There’s also concern about budgetary allocations for women’s and children’s affairs included in the recent Budget reading. What are your observations and how could these allocations have been improved?
Our leader personally places great importance on responsibility of state in the provision of resources, facilities and services for women and children. SJB has focused on this during the budget debate. SJB has declared that under an SJB Government, it will adhere to a gender responsive budgeting strategy. SJB has already got in place a policy group for Women and Children, in addition to policy groups on other key areas of national concern. The Women and Children policy group comprises top experts in this field in Sri Lanka and also Sri Lankans domiciled overseas who specialise in this sphere. They are currently reviewing the SJB women’s charter and policies for children and engaging in discussions and debates on this area.
Your comments on sexual innuendo passed in Parliament recently..
In addition to the extremely insulting remarks on women made in parliament the Member of Parliament representing the ruling party in the Government made derogatory references to the spouse of our leader as well. The insult to her was made when she was not even present. This verbal abuse has been viewed very negatively, not only by women who support the SJB, but by many women in general in Sri Lanka.
SJB has taken a strong stance against sexual harassment of women. This includes verbal abuse. To express our pain and grief at this public insult, SVB organised silent protests and demonstrations in several parts of Sri Lanka. Women from all walks of life participated in these protests. We hope that all citizens of Sri Lanka, let alone those in responsible positions and national leaders will not abuse women, bringing shame to themselves, their own female family members and the country.
How does the SJB women’s wing aim to empower more women to enter active politics?
Active participation of women in the political process is vital for a vibrant democracy. Unfortunately, this has been a reality in Sri Lanka since independence. Although women have shone in every sphere of national development, entering the political arena has been riddled with obstacles for women. For example, traditional attitudes of male supremacy, the colossal costs involved in entering politics and challenges of going forward with the proportional representation system.
Fortunately, the SJB is a new party with a new vision and leadership that is sincerely committed to providing equal opportunities for women to actively enter mainstream politics. Our leader, Sajith Premadasa, during his Presidential election campaign, pledged his commitment to empowerment of women with the Women’s charter which was linked to his manifesto. There was a great deal of consultation with women’s stakeholder groups and research to identify the real needs that have to be addressed to empower women in Sri Lanka and create a truly enabling environment for sustainable development of women in Sri Lanka. In this context he spelled out too his commitment to provide opportunities for women to actively enter politics.
As the main opposition party in Sri Lanka today, SJB is aggressively purposing its policies to bring about a better tomorrow for the people of Sri Lanka. The Samagi Vanitha Balawegaya, SVB, as the women’s wing of the SJB, steered under the leadership of veteran women politicians Thalatha Atukorale, Vice Chairperson, Parliamentarian, Rohini Kaviratne and I, functioning as the National Organiser, has been given full freedom by the SJB leader to introduce and implement actions which we feel is best for the women in Sri Lanka. We are supported by a vibrant group of women politicians and professionals at local and national level. Our representatives hold a significant number of key positions in the Working Committee of the party and important committees. We have a voice in all important decisions taken by SVB.
SJB has also undertaken to provide 25% quota of nominations to women for the forthcoming local and provincial council election.
With the tremendous encouragement and support we get from our leader, we are confident that for the first time in the political history of Sri Lanka, we can bring about a real and positive change in the prevailing culture towards women. We are adopting a ‘bottom up’ approach, mobilising women leaders from the grassroots throughout Sri Lanka and paving the way for them to get involved in national politics. The Covid 19 pandemic has caused some delay in the completion of our action plan. However, we are working hard to have our island-wide programme and branches fully operational by the end of 2022.
We are confident that as we continue our journey for empowerment, women in Sri Lanka will gain a great boost socially, politically, economically, culturally and in all spheres under an SJB Government in the future.