Sri Lankan women ever open to harassment – Colombo Mayor Rosy Senanayake


Nirmali Samaratunga presenting a token to Mayor Rosy Senanayke. Pic by Dharamasena Welipitiya

By Steve A. Morrell

Sri Lanka's women are in a constant limbo of uncertainty and open to unfettered harassment both in public and even in their homes, Colombo Mayor Rosy Senanayake, Chief Guest and keynote speaker at the recent National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka ( NCCSL) International Women’s Day celebrations said.

In a ‘no – holds – barred’ speech to a mixed audience of activists and the press, she said even in their homes domestic violence is now at ‘horrendous’ levels so much so that in Sri Lanka to be a woman meant that such persons were reduced to the level of second class citizens. Apart from domestic violence, in public transport, buses, trains, for example, women are constantly intimidated and face sexual harassment.

The mayor added - 'According to complaints received, some 90 percent of women are constantly harassed while traveling in public transport. It was also not safe traveling in three wheelers. Single women traveling from point A to B were objects of intimidation. Unfortunately, low income groups who are forced to travel in such transport are most exposed to such harassment.

'If complaints are made to the police, the latter treat all such complaints as a joke, and no action is taken against men who indulge in such harassment.

'The biggest hindrance in this country is to be a woman. This disadvantage is so acute that in most walks of life women are always considered inferior and not adequately recognized.

'This situation is unacceptable. Particularly considering that 80 percent of those who pass out of universities are women.

'At the Colombo Municipal Council when women are recommended by me to hold key positions, quite often, I have to face severe criticism. The position was that men should be appointed. But on my insistence, the position now is that by 2020, 50 percent of key positions at the Colombo Municipality will be occupied by women.

'In most other countries currently, women are recognized and given equal status when it comes to work and appointments. This position does not exist in Sri Lanka. The World Bank and UNFPA have recognized the importance of female recognition and their tangible contribution to most areas of endeavour.

'The 2019 budget was a step in the right direction. It provides for 25 percent of positions in the public sector to be occupied by women.'

Also present at the head table at the event was the only woman to hold the position of president NCCSL so far, Ms. Nirmali Samaratunga. She held office from 2005 to 2007. This is an outstanding achievement. Since she relinquished office the NCCSL is yet to find a female to follow her to lead the NCCSL.

Nirmali Samaratunga presented a token of appreciation to Mayor Rosy Senanayake.

President NCCSL Asela de Livera said a woman’s wing was established in the NCCSL, led by Ms. Renuka Jayamanna.

Guest speakers included Dr. Dhananja Ariyawansa, Consultant Dermatologist, Sri Jayawardenapura General Hospital and Dr. Champa Nelson of the Apeksha Women’s Health Foundation.

Renuka Jayamanna delivered the vote of thanks.

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