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BCIS seminar puts spotlight on ‘‘Women as Change Agents,, to reach to the top

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By Shannon Jayawardena

A seminar on ‘Women as Change Agents’, organised by the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS) last week, shared insights as a form of empowerment for all women across the country while emphasising on women in global governance.

The event focused on the key topics; role of Sri Lankan women in economic development, role of women in current national efforts in development, a changing world with women decision-makers and women in diplomacy.

Keynote speaker, United Nations Former Under-Secretary-General Radhika Coomaraswamy said: “Statistics from UN Women show 82% of women parliamentarians, in a 39-country study, have been subjected to psychological violence. The word governance has been included into our vocabulary and has gradually taken over. From the women’s point of view, the enactment and implementation of the convention of the discrimination of women is one example for network success, which is very important.”

She noted that individual women can make it to the top. The reason for the lack of women representation is discrimination and the boys’ club mentality of political parties and senior management who do not consider women as equal or capable which, in many parts of the world, intimidate women and prevent them from coming forward.

“The most important factor that women share across the globe, especially in the corporate sector, is the dual burden that they have between work and home. The number of women in high-level corporate sectors is very low, though individual women have done well,” stated Coomaraswamy. “Women could reach the top, but all you need is a good attitude and the facet to organise yourself.”

She further said that, for most married women across the world, dual burden remains the major obstacle to achievement besides discrimination. Bandaranaike National Memorial Foundation Chairperson and Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga stated: “Why is it that we are talking about women as change agents and how to get more women into leadership, but why not men as change agents? Obviously, because there is some gap there. I find it distraught that millions of years after human beings appeared on this earth that we still have to talk about giving women their rightful place.”

She noted that, today, we are in an age of electronic combinations, in an age where we can travel 1000s of miles in a few hours, where distance doesn’t matter but still talk about giving women their rightful place as leaders, as change agents and whatnot.“I think that the most important thing is for us to seriously think why this is so. In South Asia, if I limit myself to our part of the world, we know that even today, in the modern age, the woman is massively oppressed in some societies. All religions give the woman a very important place but on the other hand, we find women relegated in a corner, into the kitchen, beaten up, sexually abused, physically abused and very oppressed,” added Kumaratunga.

She also said that the reasons for this are that both men’s and women’s lives are based on religious believes, philosophies and the cultural practices that are built on that. Still, all our traditional practices radiate the women to second place. These are the issues that we have to think about and of course, fight for equal rights.

Pix by Gitika Talukdar

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