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Investing in Women as a game changer for Sri Lanka: What does it take for women to fulfill their potential as leaders?

Generation to Generation Dialogue – Bringing Generations Together For our Sri Lanka

29th March 2016

Colombo, Sri Lanka

His Excellency President Maithripala Sirisena pledged ‘A New Sri Lanka for Women’ in his election campaign that made actionable commitments to prioritize women in Sri Lanka. This comprises of fifteen broad promises that will effectively seek to better the lives of Sri Lankan women across all age groups, education levels, social classes, religions and ethnicities.

Taking to heart President Maitripala Sirisena’s pledge, we would like to warmly welcome you to the second generation to generation policy dialogue – “Investing in women as a game changer for Sri Lanka: What does it take for women to fulfill their potential as leaders?”

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Please allow me to start my remarks on a personal note. As some of you know, I chair, in addition to my representing the UNFPA, the gender Theme Group of the UN family here in Sri Lanka, and the National Forum against Gender based violence. I am a husband, a father, a leadership coach and maybe qualify as what some might call : a male feminist. I have never come across women as smart, as committed to their families and their careers, as resilient and as genuinely determined to advance the prosperity of their communities and their country like the women of Sri Lanka. Yet, at the same time, I have been puzzled by the comfort, the complacency and often a sense of resignation in the face of legal, economic and cultural barriers that block the women of Sri Lanka from fulfilling their true potential. Having the honor to lead an agency of the UN for the second time in a country that comes out of a prolonged conflict, I could consider the post-conflict paradigm, or “culture” as factors which explain gender disparities, inequities and inequalities. I could listen to proponents – either male or female – who blame, excuse or take refuge in abstract technocratic language or in eloquently and emotionally powerful demands to the converted. Such voices would maybe explain why in a country that has 650,000 more women – mainly healthy and well educated than men - most women do not fulfill the potential that could make Sri Lanka a fast-changing, emerging and competitive role model as a middle income country with equal AND equitable opportunities for its entire population. But what is behind the stories of the srilankan women’s unfulfilled potential? Let me try and advance one possible answer and which is the reason why we are here today.

As the United Nations Populations Fund, we are THE population data agency that convenes decision-makers, actors and beneficiaries through evidence-based data and policy related advocacy with a focus on women, young people, and the elderly. The power of people to exercise their rights and make choices will determine the health and well-being of present and future generations and is central to achieving the world’s Sustainable Development Goals. UNFPA saves the lives of women and young people and empowers them to contribute to inclusive, equitable development that protects the planet. We believe that our mandate, our mission and our work underpin the entire sustainable development agenda!

At UNFPA we believe that it is important to capture the voices of all generations of Srilakans from all walks of life to come up with their solutions to Sri Lanka’s development concerns.

This is why, ladies and gentlemen, the United Nations Population Fund Sri Lanka is leading a series of inter-generational dialogues to bring all generations of Sri Lankan women and men together; bringing wisdom together with the energy for social change, to collectively voice the opinions of three generations towards Sri Lanka’s socio-economic development.

By using and analyzing data from Sri Lanka’s 2012 census and, through recommendations from a series of intergenerational policy dialogues, UNFPA hopes to build a body of evidence that documents shifting population dimensions, and identifies needs, that policymakers need to fulfill.

Population data is used as a basis for the generation to generation dialogues, and is taken from UNFPA’s publication “20.4 Million: Sri Lanka’s Population at a Glance” which most of you would have picked up before entering this room, provides a comprehensive but simple overview of Sri Lanka’s population. The analysis in the publication is based on the latest available information from the Population and Housing census of 2012, various surveys, research studies and administrative records.

To enrich today’s dialogue further UNFPA has worked with the Department of Census and Statistics to develop a thematic report on “Gender and Development in Sri Lanka: Implications for Policy and Action”.UNFPA’s intergenerational dialogues are not self-standing, but constitute the cornerstone of UNFPA Sri Lanka’s Policy Engagement Framework. The evidence and insights gathered through the dialogues will support policy makers and decision-making processes with an in-depth analysis of population dynamics that go beyond data.

No dialogue can be held in isolation, so I would like to briefly recap for you the policy points raised in the first generation to generation dialogue, held in December 2015.The discussion topic was on youth as a driving force in maintaining Sri Lanka’s middle income status. . A comprehensive analysis of that dialogue along with policy recommendations are in the brief handed to you at the entrance. I would like to recap some of these recommendations to you before we move into today’s dialogue.

Recommendations on youth as a driving force in maintaining Sri Lanka’s middle income status

- Recognize “Youth” as an economic and social opportunity in all policies.

- Job creation and training needs to take into consideration new technologies, provide opportunities for flexi-work, and mainstream soft skills training.

- Encourage young women’s political participation in government through awareness raising initiatives and changes to school curricula

- Mainstream knowledge on healthcare and aging services in order to accommodate for a rapidly aging population in the future.

I trust that you can grasp the inter-linkages of population issues for Sri Lanka’s development and the opportunities to influence policies not in isolated fashion, but holistically and equitably. Today Ladies and Gentlemen, and Honourable Ministers, we hope to facilitate a similar rich discussion on identifying solutions to the impediments holding women back, and what kind of investments are needed to allow Sri Lankan women to fulfill their potential as dynamic leaders.

Through evidence-based data, we have identified three key policy entries which we believe will be integral to unleashing women’s leadership potential. They are elaborated on in the pre-brief that you have in your information packet. These three policy points will be discussed among participants from three generations.

Thank you all for taking time off your busy schedules to be here today. I sincerely hope you enjoy the generation to generation dialogue this afternoon.