|Commission on the Status of Women|
|Friday, 09 March 2012 16:45|
Remarks by Ambassador H.E. Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona
Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
Commission on the Status of Women
“A Better Life for Women in the 21st Century: The Positive Impact of Cooperatives on Rural Women and Girls in Poverty Eradication in Post Conflict Zones”
Excellencies, Distinguished Panelists, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are happy to co-sponsor this event that is focusing on a theme centrally relevant and important. I thank Ms. Ugoji Eze for inviting us to be involved in this panel discussion.
During our 27 years of conflict with the terrorist LTTE, roads, schools, irrigation networks, electricity and farm land were destroyed in the North and the East. The livelihoods of most civilians were badly disrupted.
Sri Lanka confronted a situation where 60% of the terrorist LTTE’s fighting force came from were boys and girls under 18 years of age. UNICEF recorded over 5,700 cases of child recruitment by the LTTE from 2003 to 2009. Child soldiers were also used as suicide bombers, especially the girls. In the final stages of the conflict children were among those in the LTTE’s human shields.
During the entire conflict period, essential services, especially food and medicine, were provided unimpeded to all affected communities in the North and the East with the assistance of international agencies and the ICRC.
In the aftermath of the conflict 594 child combatants (231 girls and 363 boys) between 12-18 years) surrendered to Government forces. Consistent with the principles of restorative justice, these children were placed in rehabilitation institutions and received access to education, vocational training, heath care and psycho-social support. Following their rehabilitation, they were all reunited with their families. Sri Lanka managed this process with limited resources and in partnership with UNICEF.
In the post-conflict phase, significant attention is being paid to restoring and rebuilding damaged schools and the release of schools to the educational authorities. Over 1000 schools in the North that were damaged have now been restored and are functioning.
Other key challenges include resettlement, rebuilding livelihoods, rehabilitation and reconstruction of dilapidated infrastructure, and bringing normalcy to the conflict affected areas. The Government has embarked on providing an array of integrated services such as education, vocational training and livelihood support, fisheries and agricultural development, health and other services, proper administration, providing civilian police and a host of governmental functions at an unprecedented scale. 95% of the displaced are now successfully returned to their villages with the balance awaiting the demining of their land. It is estimated that the LTTE terrorists laid around 1.5 million landmines.
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 specific group in post-conflict Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka set up special Women’s Protection Units with female Police officers and Women’s Centres in the former IDP camps and are continuing to provide counselling services in the North and the East. The Government has given special consideration to uplifting the social and economic status of war widows. Already bilateral assistance has been obtained to initiate a self -employment programme for war widows in Batticaloa in collaboration with Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) based in India.
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 Batticaloa districts respectively. The North has recorded a 22% economic growth, while Sri Lanka’s GDP recorded an 8.2% improvement in 2011.
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 reaching 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 the remaining regional disparities need to be addressed to realise the MDGs fully by 2015. To improve basic living standards, 4% of the GDP has been distributed to qualifying households for free education, health services, food subsidies, food stamps and subsidized credit.
The gender responsive “Diriya Kantha” (the empowered woman) programme has been initiated to empower rural women to realize their full potential by addressing issues related to employment, social and mental wellbeing and property and land rights.
Sri Lanka has continued to achieve transformational change in the lives of its rural women by effectively exploiting synergistic interactions of health care with basic education, improved water and sanitation, malaria control, and integrated rural development - including building rural roads. The contribution of rural women in facilitating Sri Lanka’s successful achievement of most of the Millennium Development Goals is significant.
Mothers, having gone through schools themselves, also encourage their children to focus on education and aspire to higher educational goals. The traditional knowledge of mothers on maternal health coupled with their high levels of education has contributed significantly to reducing the child mortality rate (8.9 per thousand) and the maternal mortality rate (39 per 100,000 live births). According to the latest statistics, women enjoy a longer life expectancy (80 years) than men (76 years). It is Sri Lanka’s experience that attaining high levels of human development is a necessary precondition to creating greater opportunities for all our communities, especially rural women and girls. Female adult literacy stood at 97% and male adult literacy at 98%, in 2010. Furthermore the 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. Nearly 85 per cent of households have access to improved drinking water and 92% have access to improved sanitation facilities.
Considering the social indicators above, the socio-economic status of rural women, including in the North and the East is not static in the Sri Lankan context. There is employment and social mobility between rural and urban areas. With unimpeded access for girls and boys in the North and the East to pursue education and employment opportunities in the rest of the country, their socio-economic mobility rate will increase.
Women also comprise the majority in the medical, teaching and the nursing professions, many serving in rural schools and hospitals. Rural women’s functional literacy and numeracy skills have also 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.
The Cooperative Movement in Sri Lanka is 100 years old. It is multifaceted and has diversified itself into agriculture, industry and finance. There are over 10,000 Cooperative Societies operating in Sri Lanka with a membership of 6.3 million out of 20 million of its population. Agricultural and bio-resources cooperative societies exceed 1,000. At the village level there are over 6,000 Thrift and Credit Cooperative Societies and Rural Banking Cooperative Societies.
The Sanasa Thrift and Credit Cooperative Society played an important role to popularize the cooperative concept in Sri Lanka. It has set up 8,400 village and urban based Cooperative Societies. There are also 12 companies set up for construction, infrastructure development and finance.
The Sanasa Cooperative Thrift Societies had a strong base in the Northern and Eastern Provinces in the 1970s and the network was entirely disrupted with the rise of LTTE terrorism. 16 Sanasa Bank branches operate in the Eastern province now. Micro-credit loans have been given for livelihood projects and house construction. There are local NGO based Cooperative Societies such as the Sarvodaya Societies that are partnering in this effort.
These Cooperative Societies are integrated into the accelerated rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes of the Presidential Task Force to Develop the Northern Province. The Societies coordinate with the Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Resettlement at the national level and with the Departments of Agriculture and Department of Cooperative Development at the Provincial level. A special fund has also been established to rebuild and reactivate damaged Cooperative Societies in the North and the East.
Farmers including female headed households have been provided with cleared and demined land, agricultural subsidies such as quality seeds, implements and access to extension services. Damaged irrigation works and canals have been rehabilitated and demining and the clearance of former cultivated land areas is taking place at an accelerated pace.
The Government is planning to increase rice cultivating areas considerably that would add 300,000 metric tons to the harvest. Farmers in these areas are also encouraged to diversify their crops through the cultivation of chillies, maize, red onions, green gram, ground nuts, fruits and vegetables. The Government in partnership with the private sector is promoting agro-based micro enterprises in the North. The Government is also addressing the problem of seepage of sea water into agricultural land. Already 16 salt water exclusion schemes have been carried out in the North.
It is Sri Lanka’s experience that attaining high levels of human development is a necessary precondition to creating greater opportunities for communities, such as rural women. Sri Lanka will continue to address two key issues facing rural women that may include profitability gaps between female- headed and male headed businesses and the job insecurity surrounding subcontracted female workers.