Statement by Ambassador H.E. Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona

Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations  

56th Session

Commission on the Status of Women
 

“The empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges”

5th March 2012 

 

“As we make further social and economic progress, we must re-commit ourselves to further intensifying support for the empowerment of women, in particular rural women.  The Secretary – General’s report and the general discussion in this forum confirm this sentiment. As a developing country with limited resources, Sri Lanka, through proactive social, economic and political engagement has created an environment for its women and girls to reach for ever higher goals. By effectively mobilizing available resources and through the delivery of sustainable and poverty focused programmes, Sri Lanka has continued to achieve transformational change in the lives of its rural women. But much more remains to be done”.

 Madam Chair, 

Since my delegation is taking the floor for the first time, allow me to congratulate you and other members on your election and your excellent stewardship of the proceedings of the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women.   

We welcome the Secretary-General’s report on the theme.  

The delegation of Sri Lanka associates itself with the statement made by the delegation of Algeria on behalf of the G77 and China.

Madam Chair,  

As we make further social and economic progress, we must re-commit ourselves to further intensifying support for the empowerment of women, in particular rural women.  The Secretary – General’s report and the general discussion in this forum confirm this sentiment. As a developing country with limited resources, Sri Lanka, through proactive social, economic and political engagement has created an environment for its women and girls to reach for ever higher goals. By effectively mobilizing available resources and through the delivery of sustainable and poverty focused programmes, Sri Lanka has continued to achieve transformational change in the lives of its rural women.  

As identified in the Secretary-General’s Report, there are multiple gender-specific barriers to the advancement of rural women and girls. Some of the key constraints, in general, include limited or no access to productive resources such as land, finance and technology and public goods such as education and training, healthcare, political participation and decision making opportunities - all challenges that Sri Lanka has proactively confronted since independence. The grant of universal adult franchise in 1931 ensured that women were an integral part of government policy making from then on.  

Very early, Sri Lanka identified women as critical agents of socio-economic change.  Sustained investments in the health and education sectors and targeted social protection schemes over the years significantly improved the quality of life of Sri Lanka’s women and children.  The World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index 2010, ranked Sri Lanka 16 among the 20 highest ranking countries in “gender egalitarianism.”  

It is Sri Lanka’s experience that attaining high levels of human development is a necessary precondition to creating greater opportunities for vulnerable communities, especially rural women. The World Development Report 2012 on Gender Equality and Development (World Bank), states that high maternal mortality rates at child birth have implications for educational investments and the ability of women to actively participate in society. As the risk of dying at childbirth declines, educational investments also must increase. Citing Sri Lanka for best practices in reducing maternal mortality and improving the overall status of women, the Report states that reductions in the maternal mortality ratio increased female literacy by 1 percentage point in Sri Lanka. It further states that efforts to reduce maternal mortality must work across sectors, going beyond a focus on improving health systems and services. Sri Lanka’s dramatic and consistent success in low maternal mortality was facilitated by investments in infrastructure (such as rural roads), attention to women’s education, efforts to increase training of maternal health providers, and investments in hospitals. Sri Lanka’s success was achieved with modest total public expenditures on health - 1.8 percent of gross domestic product, on average, since the 1950s.  

The Report further says that Sri Lanka exploited synergistic interactions of health care with basic education, water and sanitation, malaria control, and integrated rural development - including building rural roads. According to the latest statistics, women enjoy a longer life expectancy (80 years) than men (76 years). Female adult literacy stood at 97% and male adult literacy at 98%, in 2010. Furthermore universal primary education net enrolment rate in Sri Lanka reached 99 per cent in 2009 for both males and females. The proportion of students starting Grade 1 and reaching Grade 5 has increased to almost 100 per cent in 2006/07.  Child mortality stood at 9.7 infant deaths per 1,000 live births and maternal mortality is 39.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2009. These are the lowest in South Asia. Nearly 85 per cent of households have sustainable access to improved drinking water and 92% have access to improved sanitation facilities.  

The Gender Equality and Development Report 2012 has also identified infrastructure development as a key facilitator for freeing up women’s time for productive activities. In Sri Lanka men engaged more in household chores, for example, ironing, after the introduction of electricity to rural households.  It is pertinent that the Report keenly advocates leveraging partnerships through South-South knowledge exchange programs where the success stories of countries such as Sri Lanka along with others, which sharply decreased maternal mortality in a short time participate on a global platform to share their experiences. 

84.9% of the population in Sri Lanka lives in rural areas and four fifths of the country’s poor are concentrated in the rural sector. Sri Lanka has integrated the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) into the national development agenda which is pro-poor and pro-growth oriented. Sri Lanka is on track to reach most of the MDGs including the MDG for the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. The poverty level has declined to 7.6% from 15.2% in 2005. The per capita income increased from US$1062 in 2004 to US$2399 in 2010. However, regional disparities need to be addressed to reach the MDGs fully by 2015. To improve basic living standards, 4% of the GDP has been redistributed to qualifying households for free education, health services, food subsidies, food stamps and subsidized credit.  

Poverty eradication and economic development in Sri Lanka is guided by the10-year Mahinda Chintana – Idiri Dekma, or “Vision for the Future”, which commenced in 2010. To achieve this goal the Government is focusing on a combination of large infrastructure development projects linking rural areas to urban centres and to global markets. The poverty reduction programme of the Government with a strong rural focus comprises the “Divi Naguma” or livelihoods upliftment programme, the “Gama Naguma Jathika Sevaya” or creating economically viable villages, the “Samurdhi” welfare and poverty alleviation programme and the gender responsive “Diriya Kantha” (the empowered woman) programme.  This programme has been initiated to empower rural women to realize their full potential by addressing issues related to employment, social and mental wellbeing, including property and land rights.  

Sri Lanka will not limit rural women to village-based agriculture or small and medium industries. They are encouraged to be an integral part of the country’s emerging industrial sector and the expanding service sector.  The socio-economic status of rural women is not static in the Sri Lankan context as there is employment and social mobility between rural and urban areas. Their functional literacy and numeracy skills have enabled them to avail fully of the financial services including micro-credit facilities heavily concentrated in the rural sector.  

The government provides tangible incentives for private investors to establish enterprises, including industrial ventures, ICT outsourcing facilities and tourism related businesses away from the main cities to enable educated rural men and women to access such opportunities. In order to institutionalize the availability and affordability of ICT related services, 600 Nenasalas or Wisdom Centers have been established throughout the country including in the Northern (5 centers) and Eastern Provinces (64 centers). These multi-service centers seek to address multiple ICT needs of communities, especially in the rural sector.   However, two key issues facing rural women include profitability gaps between female- headed and male headed businesses and the job insecurity surrounding subcontracted female workers.

 In Post-conflict Sri Lanka challenges include resettlement, rebuilding livelihoods, rehabilitation and reconstruction of dilapidated infrastructure, and bringing normalcy to the conflict affected areas.  Many of the economic rehabilitation activities implemented in the North and the East have women at the centre.  Special consideration is given to uplifting the social and economic status of war widows who form a disadvantaged social group in post-conflict Sri Lanka. While restoring and rebuilding schools, health facilities, roads, electricity, water and sanitation, the Government has also allocated approximately US$300 million for infrastructure and economic development programmes in the Jaffna district in the North while US$250 million and US$150 million have been injected to projects in the Killinochchi and Baticaloa districts respectively. The North has recorded a 22% economic growth, while Sri Lanka’s GDP recorded an 8.2% growth in 2011.  

Domestic violence is an issue deserving attention. The Government has been expanding the legal framework, improving the “infrastructure of justice” to create gender sensitive laws. It has set up institutional mechanisms and is seeking to bridge the implementation gaps to respond to incidents of domestic violence. The National Action Plan for the Protection of Human Rights launched this October includes among its eight significant thematic areas the rights of women and children. It contains a strong focus on violence against women, women and the criminal justice system, female migrant workers and trafficking in women and children. 

Madam Chair, 

Despite the food and fuel crises and on-going global financial crisis, Sri Lanka has displayed remarkable resilience in maintaining the momentum in the progress achieved with the MDGs and economic growth. Sri Lanka has recognized the mutually reinforcing and contributory links between gender equality, economic growth, poverty eradication and sustainable development. We seek to ensure that laws in the statute books and rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution are actually translated into equality and justice for women in their everyday lives. Through our proactive, focused and coherent social and economic measures, we are hopeful of addressing the gaps in the status of Sri Lanka’s rural women. 

 Madam Chair,  

Since the establishment of UN-Women, we commend the institutional consolidation that has taken place under the able leadership of Madam Michelle Bachelet. We are hopeful that UN-women will continue to make progress in furthering the objective of economic empowerment of women, especially women living in the rural areas, whilst it also pursues the goal of enhancing women’s political participation. 

 I, Thank you


 

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