Mr. Robert Juhkam, Resident Representative, UNDP in Sri Lanka

*Check against delivery


Esteemed Professors Ratan, Fernando, Goonesekere, Asst Prog Jayasundera, Sr Lecturer Abeyasekara

Members from Academic institutions, Government, CSOs

Fellow partner representatives,

Fellow speakers and panellists,

Friends from the media

Colleagues, and my dear participants,


A very warm good morning to you all,  and indeed, also from my side, a warm welcome to the 16th National Convention of Women’s Studies.  A bit cloudy and rainy where I am sitting, not sur about you all,  but I’m sure this event will bring the sunshine back out to the all parts of the beautiful island of Sri Lanka, and will bring out all the hope and promise that true empowerment of women and girls brings.


·      UNDP Sri Lanka is committed to making gender equality, itself a basic human right and a necessity for a sustainable world, a reality.

·      And in this regard, UNDP is pleased and committed to be a supporter of CENWOR, the leading Women’s Research Organization in Sri Lanka. Indeed, it seems to me, an APEX organisation and platform that pulls all interested parties together for action.

·      I am very excited to know that, today, original academic knowledge will be presented VIA the results gender equality feminist research studies and, importantly, putting some of the key recommendations of the research into practice.  

·      Know that your exchanges, panel discussion, will enrich that further.

·      And indeed, will help address and actually overcome the many challenges before us, including those mentioned now by Prof Savitri Goonesekere

·      I’d like to suggest that we all think, ponder and guide our future deliberations and actions for women’s advancement, and indeed social, economic and political advancement, based on two fundamental elements which I will touch on today.

·      One is empowerment, and the other is the aspect of the Sustainable Development Goals… SDG.


1.     The agenda for advancement of women and girls is unfinished.

Not until we fully morph from an approach seeing women as passive beneficiaries to real and FULL empowerment of women through social transformations.

Women recognized as the full-fledged leaders that they can be, that they are, at the table of national decisions, company leadership, local gov’t and civil society actions and national development policy and practice; that they can feel safe in their homes and societies.

It is by now stating the obvious that women's empowerment and gender equality are vital to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

That agenda envisions a world “of universal respect for human rights and human dignity”.

It implies social, political, economic empowerment of women and girls.

·      In terms of economic empowerment, while women constitute 52% of Sri Lanka's population and despite high levels of educational attainment, women remain largely outside the labour force, with women’s labour force participation at a mere 32.5 per cent in comparison to 72.4 per cent for men according to statistics I’ve seen.


·      Why? Amongst the reasons, the burden of household and care responsibilities fall largely and clearly on women.


·      Then there is limited mobility due to lack of safe transportation options.


·      These are amongst drivers underlying the low economic participation of women. Crises such as COVID-19 and any natural disaster, have affected and do affect, disproportionately female-headed households. This has a knock on negative impact on the children of the household.


·      Similarly, in terms of political empowerment, while women are found in decision-making positions across all sectors, at present, women in Sri Lanka are largely underrepresented in politics. Only 5.3 per cent – 12 out of 225 legislators – in the Sri Lankan Parliament are women.


·      There is widespread recognition of the need to increase women’s economic and political participation in Sri Lanka. As a highly educated potential workforce, Sri Lankan women are well-placed to make significant contributions to the economy.



·      The socio-economic empowerment of women is essential to meeting national goals of sustainable development.


·      While Sri Lanka scores well in issues such as education and healthcare, the increase in sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) continues to act as a barrier for women’s empowerment in Sri Lanka.



·      Women and girls account for over 90% of victims of sexual harassment, domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, incest and sexual abuse in Sri Lanka.[1] Report of the Leader of the Opposition’s Commission on the Prevention of Violence Against Women and The, 2014


·      Unfortunately, violence against women and girls in Sri Lanka is fuelled by a culture of silence, with as little as 5% - 10% of cases being reported to the authorities.


·      The pandemic has heightened the violence against women and girls, with data showing that since the outbreak of the pandemic, violence against women and girls – particularly domestic violence – has intensified with many women struggling to access support services.


·      SGBV is the most prevalent human rights abuse in the world. GBV is not just a public health problem it is a violation of human rights and human dignity, therefore at the heart of UNDP’s response programming is the support it provides to individuals who have been left behind. This includes the victim-survivors of SGBV, widows, women heads of households, women facing sexual bribery as well as single, abandoned women, girls and boys in neglected, vulnerable settings.


·      Working closely with the Government of Sri Lanka and other partners, UNDP Sri Lanka has made significant strides in promoting the protection of women and girls against sexual and gender-based violence by strengthening the penal chain and enabling greater access to justice for victims, enhancing women’s equal participation in decision-making, and increasing women’s voice and representation at the local level.


UNDP’s contribution towards the above

·      These aspects, i.e. pol, econ and social empowerment which eradicates violence against women, drive UNDPs commitment to initiatives and support to Government and other interventions which promote gender equality and women empowerment in line with SGD 5 and 16.  


·      UNDP believes in walking the talk, putting actions in line with our words.


·      Internally to UNDP, as one of 135 country offices around the world, covering 170 countries, in 2020 UNDP Sri Lanka was awarded the Silver Certification under UNDP’s corporate Gender Seal Certification process. Operational and programming work.


·      Externally, UNDP remains to be a core partner to the Government of Sri Lanka.


·      Notable engagements include engagements with,

1.     The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Child Development to formulate a multi-sectoral National Plan of Action to address SGBV – the first of its kind.

2.     The Gender and Women’s Select Committee in Parliament to support the drafting of three Bills that address discrimination against women and girls. Similarly, ground-breaking gender studies conducted upon the guidance of the National Police Commission have succeeded in addressing structural gender inequalities within the Sri Lanka police force.

3.     Through engagements with leading CSOs such as Women In Need, Women’s Development Centre and OfERR Ceylon, we are collectively reaching over 15 districts in Sri Lanka to ensure that the most vulnerable victims of GBV and those furthest behind are reached.

·      To respond to the escalation of GBV due to COVID lockdown measures, UNDP supported the expansion of much needed safe shelter services for SGBV survivors in different parts of the country as well as initiatives aimed at building the economic resilience of military and war widows, strengthening their voice and agency and addressing the issues of sexual bribery and exploitation.


2. Let me turn now to integration. As a means of bringing gender in to achieve ALL SDGs to First) by empower women within specific SDG areas, and two) attain the SDGs with their input and active participation.

·      Gender equality is a human right and fulfilling this right is the best chance we have in meeting some of the most pressing challenges of our time—from the current health and economic crisis to violence against women and girls.

·      The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) embodies a roadmap for progress that leaves no one behind. It takes us to fulfilling committments.

·      Sure, there is gender equality in the form of SDG Goal 5. Yet also achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is integral to each and every one of the other 17 goals. Only by ensuring the rights of women and girls across all the goals will we be able to achieve justice, inclusion and a sustainable and safe environment for future generations.

·      While the country has made significant progress over the past years to advance gender equality, the Covid-19 pandemic has had far reaching implications, particularly for women and girls by exacerbating existing inequalities across every area of life - from health to livelihoods, security and social protection.

·      Women are also harder hit by the economic impacts of COVID-19, as they are more likely to be employed within the informal sector, putting them at greater risk of falling into poverty.  

·      These facts only underline urgency and also enable Sri Lanka to accelerate if focused.



·        Over the years CENWOR has led the way in carrying out women/ gender focused research activities, advocacy on gender issues and has conducted several successful conventions inspiring critical gender specific research in the country.


·        As I’ve been informed, it is encouraging to note CENWOR has partnered with UN agencies in programmes including on violence against women; has had a presence at all UN Conferences on Women including the UN Conference which adopted the Vienna Declaration on Violence against Women, and CENWOR members have also served on the UN CEDAW Committee and the UN Child Rights Committee.


·        Positive is also that CENWOR’s engagement extends to networks with state, private and non-state sectors as well as with international non-governmental organizations, and interacts closely with public service providers.


·        With its extensive networks we are happy to partner with CENWOR on this National Convention for Women which will focus on SDG 5, SDG 16 and cross cutting issues emanating from other Goals.


·        Given the academic studies, interactions at grassroot levels and providing a multi-stakeholder platform to share lessons, evidence based data and best practices on gender & SDGs, especially SDG 5,


·        I’m assured  that National Convention on Women will seek to strengthen the responses and initiatives of existing CSOs/NGOs/ academic institutions working in the area of gender, and  support the voice and agency of women and men researchers and policy level actors in line with the SDG gender targets, especially SDG 5 and SDG 16.


·        The Convention will also provide an important platform to bring to the forefront results of studies on gender-based issues and gender targets of SDGs (with significant focus on SDG 5) to a wider audience, and to provide a space for greater interaction for those whose voices are not heard, excluded, marginalized and left behind in the development dialogue.


In Closing



·      In this sense, the pandemic also offers us an opportunity to build forward differently and most importantly build forward better.


·      The National Convention on Women will contribute to ground-breaking feminist research.


·      I hope that the wealth of knowledge, and experience sharing,  and policy recommendations generated through this convention will feed into the programming of development organizations including UNDP’s future programming, enabling us to ensure our gender-supportive work is aligned to priorities identified through extensive ground research in Sri Lanka linking theory to practice.



·      As we approach the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism, beginning tomorrow official, against gender-based violence around the globe, let’s us also remind ourselves as organizations, stakeholders and individuals of the duty we must ensure a violence free society for all women and girls.

Let me take this opportunity to also thank our partners involved in this initiative and for the continuous efforts of all stakeholders involved.



UNDP Around the world

You are at UNDP Sri Lanka 
Go to UNDP Global