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To celebrate International Women’s week, Country Representative of UNFPA Sri Lanka, Mr. Alain Sibenaler, on behalf of the United Nations Resident Coordinator recognized and paid tribute to women’s achievements and their leadership potential in Sri Lankan society, by addressing the Women Parliamentarian’s Caucus, today.

Mr. Sibenaler as a strong women’s rights advocate, addressed issues, successes and concerns relating to women in parliament and women’s labor force participation in SriLanka, at a high level panel, which included the Hon. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Members of Parliament, local government bodies, and local civil society organizations.

In his capacity as the chair of the UN Gender Theme Group and the Gender-based violence (GBV) forum, Mr. Sibenaler noted the significant strides made towards achieving gender equality and parity in Sri Lanka. For primary school education, the ratio of boys to girls reached a staggering 99.4% in 2012, whilst enrolment for females in secondary education climbed to 102% that same year. However despite these figures, female labour force participation (approx. 34%) remains almost half that of male labour force participation (approx. 74%), whilst unemployment for women correspondingly remains twice as high.

Mr. Sibenaler stated that: “We must strive to improve the outcomes for women in Sri Lanka. We must invest in women’s education, health, property rights, financial literacy and access to information, and adopt a more multi-dimensional framework that approaches women’s rights in a holistic and systematic manner.”

He also brought to attention the lack of female representation in Parliament, which is one of the lowest in the world. Less than 6% of women hold seats in the national Parliament. However, the recent Bill passed to include 25% of females in local government bodies is an encouraging step forward.

The Prime Minister, Hon. Ranil Wickremasinghe re-iterated this in his speech and further added, “To empower is to give voice to women by having at least 25% female representation in Parliament”

Minister of Women and Child Affairs, Chandrani Bandara, touched on the importance of the gender specific targets and indicators embedded across the Sustainable Development Goals. As chairperson of the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, she also mentioned the major role of the caucus in advancing policies towards the empowerment of women by working on social issues such as gender-based violence (GBV).

The statements were well received by participants at the event who were encouraged by Sri Lanka’s progress, but also understand that more needs to be done. UNFPA remains committed to supporting the Government and the people of Sri Lanka to further gender equality in all dimensions of life and it is only through collaborative efforts with all stakeholders that we will ensure the realization of this goal.