*Following the Asia Pacific Beijing +20 review, Sri Lanka had the first ever Beijing+20 Youth Review on SRHR and Gender Equality in preparation for the 59th CSW. 27 Young people from 18 different CSOs, youth networks and Government bodies were a part of the youth review and the Advocacy in Practice training on the 6th and 7th of February 2015. The youth recommendations were then made into a statement and was reviewed by an experts panel including youth advocates. The statement was also presented to the minister of Women’s Affairs Sri Lanka and to the Chairperson of the National Committee on Women who are the National delegates to the 59th CSW.
This project was initiated and coordinated by Sarah Ashaya Soysa, a WGNRR member, with funding support from the International Women’s Health Coalition. Sarah extends special thanks to Asia Safe Abortion Partnership, The Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka, Women and Media Collective Sri Lanka and YPEER Sri Lanka.
BEIJING+20 YOUTH STATEMENT ON SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND RIGHTS AND GENDER EQUALITY SRI LANKA 2015
We, as the young people of Sri Lanka, recognize the important achievements in the field of education and employment opportunities for women since the Beijing Platform for Action 1995. In terms of gender equality, we have also ratified the Convention to Eliminate all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) as of October 1981. Sri Lanka also adopted a comprehensive Women’s Charter in 1993 framed on the principles of equality and nondiscrimination enshrined in CEDAW. Despite all these achievements however, there is a significant prevalence of discrimination against girls and women. Young women lack the opportunity to make decisions concerning their own bodies –especially in relation to abortion, marital law is not discussed, and there is a lack of young, capable women in decision making positions of power and authority. Young women and girls are victims of discrimination based purely on their gender. Female unemployment rate is twice that of the male unemployment rate. Approximately 6.3% teen pregnancies are reported every year in Sri Lanka.1 More than 700 unsafe abortions happen every day in Sri Lanka.2 Sri Lanka has the highest rate of sexual harassment in South Asia where recent research found that 70%of women aged 15-45 had experienced sexual harassment on public transport.3
Additionally, in spite of legal measures in place to protect women’s rights, the existence of social, cultural and religious barriers are prevalent throughout the country, preventing women and girls from achieving their full potential and making them victims of circumstance depending on their socio-cultural background. It may seem paradoxical; we have a National Youth Policy in place, yet we also have laws criminalizing homosexuality, and a lack of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and safe abortion services, except when the mother’s life is in danger. This, and society’s constricted outlook on the definition of what young women should be like, leads to very realistic fears concerning the deteriorating status of women in modern-day Sri Lanka. There is a lack of equality for women in social and political contexts, including where their health rights are concerned. We believe that implementation of the existing adolescent health strategy and national youth policy, and approving the Health of Young Persons’ Policy would resolve most of the existing issues.
Following our advocacy training and youth review of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA), 26 participants from government and civil society organisations decided to focus on four key areas of the BPFA to be given precedence in the Post 2015 development agenda that Sri Lanka will undertake. Our major areas of concern are Women and Health, Violence against Women, Women in Power and Decision Making, and The Girl Child.
1. Women and Health
Introduce and provide Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) at school level to all students regardless of gender, religion and or other factors. Implement the Lessons Learnt and Recommendation Commission’s (LLRC) recommendations regarding women’s health and rights. Decriminalize abortion in cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormalities and provide safe, affordable, accessible abortion, including effective post-abortion care. Ensure and strengthen the provision of equal, accessible, affordable, comprehensive, confidential, non-judgmental, and non-discriminatory youth friendly healthcare and information services irrespective of gender or sexual identity, which includes sexual and reproductive health services (including HIV and STI services). Provide non-discriminatory service to women who are at an increased risk or who are vulnerable to HIV and STIs by training health service providers to acquire necessary skills and attitudes when communicating and/ or providing treatment to vulnerable and high- risk women.
2. Violence against Women
Recognize marital rape as a crime, and emphasize the legal protection which would be given to women in such instances. Strengthen and ensure the efficiency of the women’s help desk in law enforcing institutions. Ensure that police officers and state officials receive comprehensive gender sensitivity training. Implement existing mechanisms to protect vulnerable women from violence which results from post-conflict situations and religious fundamentalism. Eliminate sexual harassment in the work place and take immediate disciplinary or legal action against sexual harassers. Recognize cyber violence and Intimate partner violence as forms of Violence against Women (VAW). Eliminate Discriminatory practices and legal provisions against women in land and property ownership.
3. Women in Power and Decision Making
Establish an independent women’s commission that would address and ensure women’s rights with a fair representation of youth. Ensure participation of women in local government as well as in provincial and national government, by allocating specific quotas for women, including reserved seats. Provide cabinet ministry portfolios and allocate a specific quota for female representation in Parliament, including a 25% inclusion in the National List; urge state run youth bodies such as the Youth Parliament, to have a supportive environment within their organization to promote participation of women, while also and empowering them by enabling them to access positions of leadership. Encourage political parties to pledge for a fair representation of women within their party, including in the executive positions with an equitable provision for youth representation. Existing national policies and programmes should be implemented in a manner which is gender responsive and gender friendly. Establish a women’s desk at District Secretary level. Provide leadership training to assist marginalized and women living with disabilities, and to ensure that their participation in decision making platforms will be effective and meaningful.
4. The Girl Child
Eliminate stigma and discrimination faced by young women and girls in all spheres. Create supportive mechanisms to provide access to education and health services to marginalized girls, the group of which include but are not limited to people with different physical and mental abilities, sexual orientation and gender identities, and indigenous young women. Provide and strengthen uniform community based networking, child-monitoring and a safe support system for the protection of victims of violence. Ensure that the school and pre-school teacher and parent training curricula are gender responsive and includes CSE, while additionally instructing institutions to ensure its programmes and policies are also gender responsive.
1 The Family Health Bureau. (2013).
2 UNFPA Sri Lanka. ICPD@15 Sri Lanka Review. (2009).
3 Sri Lanka Legal Aid Commission. (2011).