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Budget process

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Tuesday, 9 October 2018 00:00

Last week the Daily FT hosted a first-of-its-kind forum aimed squarely at addressing obstacles the Sri Lankan female workforce in particular face ahead of next month’s Budget. Issues taken up ranged from sexual harassment in the work place and lack of childcare facilities to broader economic and social issues such as education reform, female employee welfare and female participation in the labour force.

Moreover, all these concerns were given added weight by the 26 top female professionals who addressed the gathering – one which included top State officials such as State Minister of Finance Eran Wickramaratne, Senior Advisor to the Finance Ministry Mano Tittawella, Treasury Deputy Secretary S.R. Atygalle and Finance Ministry Economic Advisor Deshal de Mel, among others.

However, while it remains to be seen if the issues discussed will be adequately addressed going forward, a majority of the post-forum discourse – primarily online – centred around the optics of the event, with several commenters highlighting the irony of an all-male panel discussing women’s issues. The conference was a pre-Budget event and as such was an effort to get key issues included in the upcoming Budget. The Budget is formulated by the Finance Ministry and is arguably the most important policy document of the Government and the Daily FT attempted to offer a platform for key issues to be discussed and hopefully included in the Budget so that further consultation could take place among a wider selection of stakeholders. As such, top members of the Finance Ministry were represented in the panel as the Budget is mainly formulated by them. 

The Daily FT will be the first to recognise that Sri Lanka needs more women in important roles, however this is an issue that needs a collective solution. We acknowledge it is the need for the public at large to get used to the idea of seeing women in prominent decision-making roles but the Daily FT alone cannot make this change and if the reforms at the pre-Budget conference are taken forward, that change can be achieved along with much else. As a newspaper, the Daily FT was attempting to fulfil its responsibility in providing a platform for engagement and will continue to do as much as it can. The Finance Ministry has called for more recommendations and it is encouraging to see the effort being made to create a more inclusive Budget. 

It is unfortunate that, in the days following the event, the many salient points brought up during the course of the forum have not gained as much traction on social media as the criticisms of one photo. Everyone has a right to their views but the responsibility of media is to make an effort to assist people to make informed views. It is important that the issues raised by accomplished women at this forum be taken up by the public so that their representatives work harder to achieve goals that benefit all members of society. Even though many are already aware of the many problems women in the workforce face, the general public and the many other politicians in decision-making positions still need a resolute push to execute the necessary measures to make gender equality a reality.

In reality both men and women need to work together if meaningful progress is to be achieved, and in that sense it is rather more constructive and expeditious to look at achieving those goals through a common consensus. The pre-Budget Forum was a step and much more needs to be done to formulate and implement progressive policies. 

It must also be noted that as a newspaper the Daily FT has always made it a point to present progressive views, including the Cat’s Eye column, numerous editorials on women’s rights, female columnists, as well as interviews of female leaders. The Daily FT remains dedicated to this effort and has always attempted to highlight the challenges faced by women. 

Female leaders are important and the Daily FT will certainly include and promote them at future forums. It would indeed be an achievement to have more women ministers, Treasury officials, a woman as Central Bank Governor and even a woman Finance Minister someday. Until then it is important to engage with the current officials who are making an effort to address major issues impeding women. The fact that they are men does not mean the attempt should be dismissed. Politics, they say, is the art of the possible. At this juncture it simply cannot be stressed enough how important it is to amplify voices of the 26 female speakers at the forum, whose solutions and grievances, that have for many years fallen on deaf ears, finally receive the attention they deserve. If patriarchy is an unjust social system, then both men and women can and should work towards change.

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