3.4 Application of Gender Mainstreaming

We see gender as a socio-cultural construct built around the differentiation among the two biological sexes. Therefore, gender status is not something innate but socially developed.

Gender inequalities persist in numerous areas in Sri Lanka. Gender based socio-economic disparities are mainly due to diverse living conditions, specific needs, direct and indirect discrimination and sex-based roles and stereotyping. Since the end of the military conflict in 2009, issues of sexual abuse and violence have been on the rise among the war affected women and children. Their socio-economic needs prevent from returning their lives to normalcy.

We will develop a strategy that will compare situations to identify the sources of inequality between the sexes and develop concrete policies to remedy these inequities based on that evidence. The Constitution by stipulating for the equal exercise of rights and liberties of people having biologically diverse male and female characteristics will form the basis for eliminating gender inequalities and promote equality in all spheres. We will also take all necessary action to ensure that informed political decisions are made by including an assessment of the impact of each political decision based on a gender perspective.

We will make gender equality the central issue to conditions of access (legal equality) to rewards, resources and opportunities, and to obtain concrete results in terms of gender equality (actual equality). As a result, our approach will differ from liberal feminist campaigns, which are limited to demanding more or equal opportunities for advancement in employment, education and health through the existing governance framework.

Almost 52 percent of the total population in Sri Lanka are women. The women of the family run about 1.2 million households. As domestic assistants overseas and local workers in the textile, garment and tea industries, they are the highest foreign exchange earners of the country. However, Sri Lanka is ranked low in terms of gender equality. Participation of young women in the labour market is less than half that of young men. Overall unemployment rate for females is twice that of the male unemployment rate.

Discrimination in terms of property rights are prominent especially in relation to marriage and divorce laws of the country in both civil and religious spheres. High levels of gender-based violence persist. The educational gains acquired by women have not made them economically independent, socially mobile or politically empowered. Overarching these are the religious, cultural and patriarchal attitudes and social practices inculcated from childhood.

Violence against women and children is a prevalent, serious and preventable human rights abuse. More than 60 percent of women is said to have experienced domestic violence at some point in their lifetime. This is neither a private matter nor an inevitable or intractable social issue. The social, health and economic costs of violence against women and children are enormous. We recognise that preventing such violence is a matter of national urgency and can only be achieved if we all work together.

A number of factors appear to contribute to this violence including dominant social and cultural norms discouraging women from seeking legal recourse for violence, beliefs and behaviours reflecting disrespect for women, low support for gender equality, adherence to rigid or stereotypical gender roles, relations and identities, increasing drug and alcohol abuse and rising unemployment. Male chauvinism both individual and systemic, patriarchal privilege, and cultural stigma against victims of domestic violence aggravate this situation.

We are committed to a Sri Lanka free of violence against women and their children. We acknowledge the vast damage such violence inflicts on individuals, communities, institutions and the society. We believe gender inequality is the core of this problem and also that the solution lies at the heart of it. An island wide cultural and systematic change that safeguards women’s economic, social and political rights and the more equal distribution of power and resources between men and women would lead to marked reduction in this violence.

Greater participation of women in the political process may be a precondition for their economic and social emancipation. However, female representation in the political decision-making process is small. It is only five percent at the parliamentary level, four percent at the provincial council level and two percent at the local government level.

Legislation have been amended to increase women’s participation at the provincial council level to at least 30 percent and the women representation at the local government level to 25 percent. However, a mere increase of the number of women at provincial and local government level may not be sufficient to change the way of governance and the style of political decision making.

Women’s political participation will depend on whether male-dominated political institutions will propose suitable candidates. The ingrained political culture that imparts a second-class status to the women in families as they attribute family success to how well males in the family do also hinders their participation. Women are subjected to discriminatory remuneration and are more vulnerable to sexual attacks. Their participation is further discouraged by lack of resources, entrenched social norms, disrespectful, undignified, insulting, derogatory and violent nature of propaganda carried by the male dominated political machinery.

Addressing this issue needs commitment and persistence from all leaders at the national, provincial and local levels in both public and private sectors. We believe rather than taking a piecemeal and remedial approach, it needs a preventive, transversal and systematic approach in the form of gender mainstreaming. Such an approach will reinforce the social equality of women and men by integrating the gender perspective in public policy.

At a practical level this approach will strengthen and embed the equality of women and men in society; by ensuring that during all the steps in the political process (i.e., in design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation), the socio-economic differences that exist among men and women are taken into account. We believe that the daily application of gender mainstreaming in each of these areas will bring about a cultural change; making a real and concrete impact on the decision-making process.

Appropriate national legislation will be enacted for this purpose and incentives will be provided for the provincial governance to help them better understand and follow through the gender mainstreaming legal framework and the concepts behind it. A new law will be enacted with the intent of thwarting discrimination against those with biologically diverse male and female characteristics regarding their employment, social security, provision of goods and services and access to economic, social and cultural activities etc.

We will initiate a study to develop a legal framework for a consistent and integrated national approach to prevent violence against women and their children. Based on the findings appropriate legislation will be enacted to prevent such violence within and outside the family by criminalising physical violence and mental abuse. In addition, we will provide funds necessary for measures such as shelters, refuges and other appropriate care places for women and children, screened staff, monitoring protection orders, counselling, paid maternal and paternal leave, 24/7 psychological support, medical care and education etc.

We will engage with communities starting from school level to challenge historically entrenched beliefs and behaviours and the socio-economic and political structures, practices and systems that support such violence.

This will fall in line with the application of the resolutions from the world conference on women held in Beijing in September 1995 and integration of the gender mainstreaming perspective into holistic national policy analysis, formulation, implementation and monitoring.

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