Women leaders from four provinces in Sri Lanka have urged local government authorities to strengthen efforts to protect women, who have been affected by the country’s economic, political and COVID-19 crises this year.
From March to September, UN Women hosted a series of Multi-party Dialogues on Women, Peace and Security in nine districts to identify and discuss solutions to challenges faced by women there. Close to 200 people including women leaders participated in the sessions, representing the North Central, Uva, Western and Sabaragamuwa Provinces.
Participants raised concerns about issues including a shortage of safe houses, lack of awareness about available services and weak referral systems for survivors of violence.
“Over the last few months, complaints on violence against women have drastically increased, and most of the time, these women have no place to go,” said one dialogue participant, a women’s development officer from the Ministry of Women and Child Development and Social Empowerment.
Another participant, a district coordinator from Gampaha District in Western province, said: “Because of the economic crisis, many garment factories are closing. Some women have worked in these factories for 20-plus years. On top of that, they are burdened with taking care of their families. As a result, they are unable to find new jobs.”
Ramaaya Salgado, Country Focal Point of UN Women Sri Lanka, said the multi-party dialogues aimed to gather a variety of stakeholders including women leaders, public sector officials, civil society organizations, youth leaders and the media “to collectively promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, and to ensure that there is no rollback of gains made over the years”.
In each of the dialogues, participants developed district-level “workplans” in which they recommended that the local authorities:
- Strengthen coordination between front-line government officials and civil society organizations to implement initiatives, on women, peace and security
- Allocate budgets and other provisions to establish safe houses for women in each district
- Carry out campaigns to educate rural women about public services such as legal aid and counseling for survivors of violence
- Provide gender-sensitivity trainings for police and other law enforcement officers
During the dialogue sessions, the participants also received training on the principles of women, peace and security, which calls for increased participation of women at all levels of decision-making and for ensuring that women and girls are not left behind in relief and recovery efforts.
UN Women organized the first phase of the multi-party dialogues between 2018 and 2022 in 16 districts across five provinces in the country which focused on strengthening women’s leadership and decision-making role within the peace and security landscape. The current phase of dialogues covered the country’s remaining four provinces and took place in the districts of Anuradhapura, Badulla, Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Kegalle, Monaragala, Polonnaruwa and Ratnapura.
The dialogues are part of UN Women’s three-year programme on supporting the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda in Sri Lanka which is funded by the Government of Japan.