The fifty-eighth session of the Commission on the Status of Women is taking place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 10th to 21st March 2014. Representatives of Member States, UN entities, and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organizations from are attending the session.
The Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka, H.E. Ambassador Dr. Palitha Kohona delivered his statement yesterday, 17th March, on the achievements and progress made by Sri Lanka in the implementation of the millennium development goals.  The Ambassador covered a variety of topics including, access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, equal access to full employment and decent work, as well as, safety and security.


Statement by Ambassador Dr. Palitha Kohona
Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations

58th Commission of the Status of Women
10th -21st March 2014, UNHQ, New York

Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls

Women constitute 50% of the world’s population and in some countries the percentage is higher. Mainstreaming women in economic, social and political affairs has always been central to Sri Lankan policy formulation. In addition to refining the legal framework, considerable effort has gone into shaping social and political attitudes. There has been a convergence of goals on this matter among the main political parties for decades. Policies have been designed and laws enacted to eliminate gender-based violence, protect and advance women’s rights, increase women's access to decent work, eliminate discrimination, ensure access to healthcare, provide quality education and skills training. We continue to explore ways of ensuring women’s access to decision-making at all levels.
Consistent with long held government policy, Sri Lanka has supported efforts to establish a stand-alone goal on Gender Equality within the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals.

In our national policy framework, we have consistently highlighted gender equality. The government has taken measures to alleviate any existing gender gaps. Since 1931, following the grant of universal adult suffrage, Sri Lankan women have participated actively in the nation's electoral processes. They have held senior political and administrative positions. Sri Lanka was the first country in the world to elect a woman Prime Minister, in 1960. At one point, both the Prime minister and the President were women.

As a country that has always emphasized education and skills development, Sri Lanka has the highest literacy rate in South Asia at 92.3 per cent for males and 90 percent for females. The country has achieved gender parity in primary schools and gross enrolment rates at primary level are above 90 per cent. The completion rate in primary education is 89.9 per cent and the survival rate is 99.5 per cent for both girls and boys. Sri Lanka introduced a state funded free education system in 1945. As a result, we have a good track record on the Millennium Development Goals. (MDGs 2 and 3)
Similarly the country also has a state funded free health care system. Tremendous gains have been recorded in reducing the number of children who die from preventable causes. The country is on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals related to child mortality, maternal health and HIV and AIDS. The infant mortality rate (under 1) stands at 8 deaths per 1,000 live births (2012). Almost all children are immunized. HIV prevalence is under 0.1% and the maternal mortality ratio is 35 per 100,000 births (2010). This compares well with the South Asia Region. Challenges relating to quality and the equitable distribution of human resources and services between districts still exist, however, and need to be addressed.

The Government’s November 2010 Budget highlighted the need to address poor nutrition among vulnerable children and women as a priority. Nutrition improvement is a public policy priority for achieving social equity. The president himself overseas the task force on child nutrition.

In terms of water, sanitation and hygiene, over 90% of the country’s households have access to potable water and 91% to adequate sanitation, but these figures mask disparities between regions and urban and rural areas. Universal hygiene education and access to water and separate toilets for boys and girls in schools is also an issue, along with the quality of water.

Unfortunately, the conflict that affected the country for three decades has had a significant negative impact on efforts to advance the status of women. While the conflict diverted attention from the women's agenda, the socio-economic consequences were extensive.  Today, there are many women-led households in the country, especially in the former conflict affected areas. Most of the war-widows suffer from poverty and social exclusion. Equipping them with self-employment skills and empowering them to effectively participate in society remains a challenge for the government and NGO's working with them. This is a task that the Government has addressed vigorously.

Another major category of women receiving special attention are migrant workers, whose remittances are a significant portion of the national income. More than a million people, half of them women, are reported to have migrated from Sri Lanka to find work abroad and concerns exist about adequate care for their children left behind. A study in 2008 revealed that nearly 48% of women who migrate abroad in search of jobs, leave behind children under the age of six.
The children left behind are vulnerable to issues such as negligence, violence and abuse in the absence of their mothers. They experience emotional problems and are more likely to drop out of school.

The Government has also been proactive in providing special care for these children and also the children in the former conflict affected areas. The Women and Children’s Bureau and a special investigation unit established under the Child Protection Authority of Sri Lanka, are tasked to handle investigations with regard to cases of child abuse. Women police officers who are specially trained, investigate complaints made by women or those with regard to children. They function at information desks established at Police Stations, especially in the North and the East. In addition to this the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs has established a women’s help line 1938.     

Sri Lanka is now getting ready to host the World Conference on Youth 2014 in Colombo in  May, with the participation of over 1500 young people and policy makers. Consistent with GA resolutions 66/121 and 68/130, the main objective of the conference will be to provide an inclusive platform for young people from all over the world to come together, share their concerns and experiences and develop a consensus on how youth should be incorporated in designing, implementing and following-up the Post 2015 Development Agenda. Gender equality will be discussed as a crosscutting theme in this conference. The anticipated outcome document, the “Colombo Youth Declaration”, is expected to create the basis for an inter-generational dialogue through its joint endorsement by young people and policy makers.

I would like to invite all of you to this unique event and support for a strong outcome which will ensure the inclusive participation of youth, women and children in the development of policies in the decades to come.
I thank you.

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