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International Women’s Day and Women in Lanka - EDITORIAL

08 Mar 2024 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

The world celebrates International Women’s Day, today. March 8 is a day set apart to recognise the cultural, political, social and economic achievements made by women. It also serves as an opportunity to inspire efforts to end gender biases and discrimination, and achieve gender equality.
International Women’s Day is linked to the women’s movements during the Russian Revolution. On March 8, 1917, thousands of women in Russia heralded the start of the Russian revolution by going on strike to demand bread and in protest at the toll of Russian lives lost in during World War I.

Within days, The Tsar (Russian King) abdicated, and women were given the right to vote. International Women’s Day has been celebrated on 8th March ever since.
More recently, in March 2022, in our own country, thousands of Sri Lankan women joined in mass protests against the misrule of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the government headed by his brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Thereafter, in July, protestors stormed the Presidential Secretariat and the President’s official residence. The President was forced to flee the country.

In an earlier era, our country gave the world its first woman Prime Minister, when Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, following a landslide election victory, was sworn in as the first female Prime Minister in the world, as well as Minister of Defence and External Affairs.
The United Nations Family Planning Association (UNFPA) has pointed out that in Lanka, 49% more girls are enrolled in universities than boys, and that there is no significant difference in the literacy rates between men and women. 

Women in Lanka also form the backbone of the economy of our country, bringing in much needed foreign exchange from the export of tea, rubber, textile manufacturing and remittances as migrant workers abroad. Sadly, these women are not adequately recompensed, despite the huge role they play to bring in the much needed dollars which keep our economy afloat.
Women in our country have enjoyed universal suffrage since 1931, and women Parliamentarians have sat in all successive Parliaments since then. 
These are achievements made by the women in our country, and Lankan women can be justifiably proud. 

But all is not hunky dory in Lanka. To date, just 60 women have served in the Legislature of the country. In the present Parliament for instance, of the 225 members, there are just 13 female Members of Parliament (MPs), constituting to a little over 5% of the total MPs. Yet females comprise 51 percent of the population of this country.
Though we have had two female Heads of State, only 8.8 percent of entrepreneurships in the country have females among their top level management. 
While 49 percent more girls are enrolled to universities than boys, ten percent more females are unemployed than men!
Politicians often tout our over a 2,500-year-old civilisation and respect shown to women in our society. The reality is far different. Women in our country are subject to increasing rape and sexual harassment. 

According to a 2013 UN Survey, which explored violence against women throughout the Asia-Pacific region, nearly 15 percent of Sri Lankan men said they had committed rape. Of those, 65 percent said they had done so on more than one occasion. But of all the men surveyed, only five percent said they had been arrested and jailed for their crimes. 
According to ‘Women in Need’ every three out of five women are victims of domestic violence, and a woman is raped every 90 minutes. 
In 2017, Sri Lanka was ranked the world’s 11th safest country for women by the New World Wealthy research group. Unfortunately, as things stand today, we can no longer make this claim.
While Mother Lanka hangs her head in shame over the actions of some of her sons, the world is shutting its eyes to the cruelty Israel’s male dominated government is committing on the women of Palestine in Gaza.

The ‘UN Women’ press release of March 1, 2024 states, 9,000 Palestinian women have been killed by Israeli forces in Gaza since October 2023. An estimated 37 mothers are killed every day. The report adds, Gaza’s entire population of 2.3 million people will be facing acute levels of food insecurity within weeks.