Published on: March 8, 2024

Advocacy for Women’s Rights Must Transcend Mere Rhetoric

This Women’s Day, Celebrants Return Home Empowered by Legal Protections.

  • Bills for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Set to be Tabled in Parliament in May.
  • Sri Lanka to Introduce Groundbreaking Gender Budgeting Initiative, a First in Asia.
  • Legislation Drafted to Combat Violence Against Women.
  • Initiative Underway to Establish Women’s and Children’s Affairs Units in Every Police Station Island-wide- The President.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe revealed plans to introduce two significant bills aimed at advancing gender equality and empowering women, with both slated for presentation to Parliament in May. Addressing the National Celebration of International Women’s Day at the Water’s Edge, Battaramulla today (08), the President outlined the key provisions of these legislative initiatives.

Under the proposed Women’s Empowerment Act, the establishment of a separate commission is envisaged. This commission’s primary objective will be to facilitate the advancement and empowerment of women by implementing mechanisms to protect their rights, all by constitutional provisions. President Wickremesinghe noted that the draft of this bill was published in the Gazette yesterday (07), marking a significant step towards its realization.

He announced that a drafted bill focusing on gender equality, aimed at securing women’s rights, will be published in the Gazette in the upcoming week. This bill seeks to establish principles of gender equality across various sectors, including social, political, economic, cultural and technical policies, while also providing the necessary infrastructure to support these principles. He emphasized that these arrangements will be made through the proposed Act.

Furthermore, the President pledged to establish a council on gender and social equality, vested with ministerial powers, to address issues related to gender and social equality effectively. Additionally, plans are underway to establish a centre at the ministerial level dedicated to resolving women’s issues.

To ensure comprehensive consultation and collaboration, President Wickremesinghe announced the assignment of the Women’s MP caucus of Parliament to engage with various groups regarding these bills and to propose any necessary amendments.

Highlighting the significance of these bills, President Wickremesinghe noted that they mark a historic milestone for the South Asian region. He also expressed his intent to implement gender budgeting in the future, further advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment initiatives.

The President expressed the government’s commitment to implementing gender-based budgeting in the future and establishing women and children affairs units in every police station, with corresponding officer training.

President Wickremesinghe stressed that women’s rights should not be limited to rhetoric but should be supported by concrete laws and ordinances. He called for nationwide awareness on women’s issues, stating that legislative efforts alone are insufficient without societal engagement.

The theme of the 2024 International Women’s Day celebration was “Empowered Women- Prosperous Nation”, with participation from women’s organizations across the island.

Minister of State for Women and Children’s Affairs Geetha Kumarasinghe presented guidelines for temporary women’s care centres and the constitution of women’s work organizations and women’s power boards to the President.
Symbolic donations were made to these centres, including three-wheelers, computers, printers, and scholarships for beauty courses. Additionally, the symbolic launch of loans under the “Liya Saviya” loan program, aimed at providing relief from microfinance loan burdens, took place.

Certificates were also awarded to young women who completed the NVQ 3 level caregiving service professional training course conducted by the Bolawalana Good Shepherd Convent under the Ministry of Women, Children Affairs, and Social Empowerment.

Addressing the gathering President Ranil Wickremesinghe further commented:

“In celebrating International Women’s Day, the usual practice in our country is to hold a ceremony, discuss women’s rights and return home. This routine occurs every year. However, this time, we have decided to implement concrete actions to amplify women’s voices.

Last year, during my meeting with the Women’s Caucus in Parliament, I urged them to draft essential bills for women’s rights. Among these initiatives, two significant bills have been prepared. The first is the Women’s Empowerment Act, which aims to establish a separate commission dedicated to women’s upliftment and empowerment, ensuring the protection of their rights in accordance with the Constitution. The responsibility of formulating a national policy will be entrusted to this commission by the relevant minister.

The draft of this bill was published in the Gazette yesterday. Additionally, another critical bill, the Gender and Equality Bill, will be published in the Gazette next week. This legislation seeks to safeguard women’s rights and promote gender equality across various sectors, including social, political, economic, cultural, and technical domains, while providing necessary support for their advancement.

Plans are also underway to establish a Gender Equality Council with ministerial powers and to set up a gender centre, equipped to address issues at the ministerial level.

With the implementation of these initiatives, we will establish two robust institutions dedicated to advancing women’s rights. It is imperative that women’s rights go beyond mere rhetoric; therefore, it is crucial to enact appropriate legislation, a task that has been neglected for far too long. Today, we are taking significant strides in this regard.

I entrust the Women’s Caucus in Parliament to engage in discussions with other stakeholders and propose any necessary amendments. Amendments must be notified following the new year period in April, and the bills are expected to be submitted to Parliament in May.

Our efforts do not stop here. These bills mark a historic first in our region, setting a precedent for South Asia. Furthermore, we aim to introduce gender budgeting, a groundbreaking initiative that has only been implemented in a handful of countries, including Canada. We have already prepared the groundwork and intend to present the draft in consultation with the Secretary to the Treasury, an unprecedented move in Asia.

During my tenure as Leader of the Opposition, I drafted a report on preventing violence against women. Although our plans to implement these measures in 2018 were disrupted by the short-lived government and the tragic Easter Sunday attacks, we remain committed to this cause.

I will convene the Women’s Caucus in Parliament to review these initiatives and address any necessary amendments. This marks the first step towards meaningful change for women in our country. Additionally, today, we are unveiling national guidelines for temporary women’s care centres, further demonstrating our commitment to safeguarding women’s rights and well-being.”

Minister of State for Women and Children’s Affairs Geetha Kumarasinghe,

“Women play the most pivotal role in the world, deserving respect and empowerment every day of the year, not confined to a single day. Strengthening the economy is crucial to enabling women to stand independently.

Currently, women constitute the majority of students in our universities. However, after completing their education, many women’s journeys come to a halt upon marriage and motherhood. While the invaluable role of motherhood is undeniable, it should not limit women’s potential.

It is noteworthy that women are significant contributors to our country’s economy, earning foreign exchange and making substantial contributions to industries such as agriculture and garment manufacturing. Despite comprising 52% of the population, women’s political representation remains dismally low, with only 6% contributing to politics and a mere 13 women holding seats in Parliament. This disparity must be addressed to harness the transformative potential of women in shaping the country’s politics and economy.

Recognizing this disparity, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has made several significant decisions to empower women. Therefore, this Women’s Day, women will be granted the power and protection by the law.”

The guest lecture was delivered by Dr. Anusha Edirisinghe, Senior Lecturer of the Department of Sociology at the University of Kelaniya and Director of the Centre for Gender Studies.

Among the distinguished attendees were Ministers Susil Premjayanth, Pavitra Wanniarachchi, and Manusha Nanayakkara, as well as State Ministers Anupa Pasqual and Seetha Arambepola. Member of Parliament Wajira Abeywardana, former Mayor of Colombo Rosy Senanayake, foreign ambassadors, high commissioners and representatives from governmental and non-governmental organizations, both local and foreign were also present. Additionally, a group of women representatives from various regions across the island participated in the event.

Mission

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The media department works as a source of information on the subject of the President’s vision and mission by maintaining good coordination with public and private media organizations and journalists.

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