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UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador Ashley Judd highlights importance of reproductive health and rights in SL

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UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador Ashley Judd (right) addresses the media in Colombo yesterday along with UNFPA Representative in Sri Lanka Ritsu Nacken 


By Shannon Jayawardena

UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador, award-winning actress, and writer Ashley Judd arrived in Sri Lanka on 3 February with the task of highlighting the importance of reproductive health and gender rights across the country.

During her time in Sri Lanka, Judd visited the country’s first ever maternity hospital, where she engaged with pregnant mothers and new-born babies to gain more knowledge on UNFPA’s support in formalising maternal care guidelines in the country. 

Judd said: “What’s so different about Sri Lanka is that you represent what can happen when a country is able to empower its people, through universal access to education and health care, to reduce maternal mortality. Also the service delivery is so outstanding.”

However, she also stressed on the fact that there are many ongoing challenges such as gender violence, sexual harassment and discrimination and so forth.  Over 90% of women are harassed in public transport and the labour force participation of women is only at 36%. Gender based discrimination is deeply unfortunate and must be openly addressed, said Judd.

She also pointed out that approximately 50% of young people don’t have any knowledge on how the opposite sex’s reproductive system works. Reproductive health and sexual education is thereby very important for everyone, she said.

Judd also visited and engaged with 100 young people from at the University of Peradeniya, where she witnessed young women and girls express their views on incidents of GBV through art and interactive drama.

“Students were invited to represent what violence looked like in five sectors; on social media, at home, at universities, at the work place and public transport. On social media they used the #metoo, talking about hyper-sexualisation of girls and women. The internet needs to be a free place where everyone can participate. The point is these kids spoke about various forms of violence in an open manner. It’s this kind of awareness that creates advocacy and courage,” she added.

She went on to say that: “All Sri Lankan girls have experienced some form of violence or sexual harassment at some point in their lives. Girls and women should empower their own behaviour to create different outcomes. You should have the voice and courage to speak up, that is the right thing to do.”

The award-winning actress also visited MAS Holdings UNICHELA factory in Panadura, which is Sri Lanka’s largest export industry primarily driven by women. There, she spoke to empowered women about their exponential career growth, and how the industry has been a catalyst in enhancing livelihoods of women and in raising the country above poverty.

Judd stated: “UNFPA wants to empower girls and boys to prevent the harmful practices that exist all around the world. We also want to make sure that girls have full access to sanitation and hygiene and make sure that every woman has her dignity and go to schools. An educated girl is a more valued girl and when she is educated, she becomes a more powerful and economic woman.”  

Pic by Upul Abayasekera

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