Every year around this time, the media focuses on women. This year women in Sri Lanka were offered clothes and shoes at discounted prices and the chance to win a non-stick pan. While non-stick pans are certainly useful, prizes and discounts are not what women’s day is about.
Most women would tell you (at least I certainly would) that we’d gladly turn down those Women’s Day offers for the freedom to walk around Colombo at ANY hour – including the dead of night – without fear of being cat-called and molested.
The day women are safe and enjoy the same rights as men, is that day Women’s Day can be removed from the calendar. Just as men don’t have a special day to commemorate them, a special day for women will be completely unnecessary.
But that day is far along. In the world we live in today, women don’t enjoy these rights. So how can we start ensuring that women receive equal right? The first step for us Sri Lankans is to increase women’s participation in parliament.
Did you know that less than 6% of women hold seats in the national Parliament?
This means that there aren’t enough women in parliament to speak out for women when bills are being passed. We must understand that women and men are equal but different. We have different needs and even wants. So to ensure that the policies and Acts are relevant and conducive to women and men to reach their full potential, we need women in parliament, because men don’t always know what women need.
These polices and Acts, can ensure that women are safer in public spaces, that women have equal job opportunities and can contribute to the country’s economy; after all Sri Lanka has more women than men, just imagine how well we will do in terms of income generation if more women entered the workforce.
UNFPA Country Representative, Alain Sibenaler spoke in Parliament today, saying “Sri Lanka has one of the lowest levels of women’s political participation in the world. This has made Sri Lanka 128 out of 140 in terms of female representation in parliament, which is one of the lowest not only in South Asia but globally”.
He went on to explain that women need to be in all levels of civil service, including within public administration entities and the judiciary.
Good news, however, is that Sri Lanka has taken one large step in the right direction. Recently a seeking to include 25% of females in local government bodies was passed in parliament and will be implemented before the next polls is a positive step!
With more women in parliament we can focus on making the labour force conducive for women.
Apart from contributing to the national income, as it stands women in employment face numerous barriers, which have made them more susceptible to conditions of poverty, unemployment, discrimination and low wages.
What’s surprising is that while there are more women enrolled in tertiary education – universities and vocational training – this isn’t reflected in the labour force.
Female labour force participation (approx. 34%) in Sri Lanka remains almost half that of male labour force participation (approx. 74%), whilst unemployment for women correspondingly remains twice as high.
Alain Sibenaler stated in Parliament: “there has been a tendency in Sri Lanka for women to be concentrated in low-skilled jobs, with low wages and less job security. Addressing such problems and realizing full equality among men AND women, necessitates equal recognition and appreciation of the contribution of both genders to the economy and to society, in addition to their work, experience and knowledge”.
When this is achieved, there will be no need for Women’s Day, and we at Kiyanna hope for that someday soon.