8th March 2021 Colombo, Sri Lanka

UK In Sri Lanka: #ChooseToChallenge for Gender Equality

BHC: Two signed cricket bats to Shanthi Maargam and Women In Need Sri Lanka to raise funds

The UK Chooses To Challenge: How The British High Commission and British Council are championing gender quality in Sri Lanka?

Each year, on 8 March, the world comes together to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). We advocate for women’s equality, honour the achievements of women and support female-focused organisations. This is all aimed at striving towards more equitable world. This year’s IWD theme calls on us to ‘Choose to Challenge’, to bring about constructive change. After all, by challenging gender stereotypes, biases, and prejudices, we can help change conservative mind-sets, rectify biased behaviours, and reverse discriminatory policies. The UK is proud to play its part in this global campaign. In Sri Lanka, both at the British Council (BC) and British High Commission (BHC), gender equality is central to our approach. We consider it not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do.

BHC Programme with Sri Lanka Police

Advocating for women’s equality: The UK believes that no country can truly flourish if half of its population is left behind. This is why, we are committed to a foreign policy which consciously and consistently delivers for women and girls. Through our programmes, our policy advocacy, and our everyday actions, we continue to work on a wide range of gender issues. This includes tackling sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), increasing women’s representation and empowerment in politics and public life, and promoting female participation in justice and transitional justice processes. Last year, BC in partnership with The Asia Foundation, commenced work to address the challenges women and other marginalised groups face in accessing mediation services. Likewise, the BHC has made increasing gender equality and sensitivity within Sri Lanka Police, cornerstone of our community policing work. We were pleased, to see Sri Lanka meet a significant milestone with the appointment of its first female Deputy Inspector General last year.

BHC: Dr. Neelika Malavige shares her experiences during an internal Foreign Office event with leaders across South Asia and Indo Pacific Countries

Honouring the achievements of women: Through our work, we have come across countless inspiring, courageous and resilient women – whether businesswomen and entrepreneurs, women in politics and governance, female human rights defenders, or conflict-affected women and girls. Over the past year, the BHC has been pleased to support joint research by the University of Oxford and the University of Sri Jayawardenapura, Sri Lanka for C-19 vaccine development. This has allowed us to work closely with leading women in STEM, such as Prof. Neelika Malvage, Professor and Head of the Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine at University of Sri Jayewardenepura. In the run up to International Women’s Day we were delighted to amplify her experience and success, during an internal Foreign Office event with inspirational leaders across South Asia and Indo Pacific countries. And the British Council was honoured to host a panel of leading women in education, the creative economies and women’s rights, who shared how they choose to challenge everyday biases and inspire women and girls daily. During a fireside chat with Ms. Sulochana Segera, founder of Women in Management, BC and BHC staff were able to hear more about women’s empowerment and gender equality in Sri Lanka.

These activities sit alongside the British Council’s efforts to use creativity and arts to address gender inequality. Initiatives like the Women of the World festival celebrate women and girls’ achievements, and the Female Filmmakers First grant scheme supports the creation of safe spaces for thought-provoking content. Capacity building, skills development and network building for artists and development professionals working on gender, also include the Creating Heroines project which convened female artists to spark debate and challenge stereotypes and the Voices & Choices grant scheme which provides a platform for women to implement their own gender equality initiatives.

BHC: 2 Cricket bats signed by England Test Cricket Team

Supporting female-focused organisations and women: This International Women’s Day, the BHC is pleased to support two local women’s organisations, Shanthi Maargam and Women in Need. Both work tirelessly to address harmful gender norms and reduce violence against women and girls (VAWG). The UK will present a cricket bat to each organisation, signed by the England Test Cricket Team during their recent 2021 tour of Sri Lanka, for auction purposes. Our hope is that the funds raised will go towards supporting victims and survivors of violence and raise awareness about the important work these organisations do. This activity coincides with ongoing BHC support to Sri Lanka Police and community-based organisations to tackle SGBV (particularly in light of rising cases as a result of Covid-19 lockdowns) and current BC work on ‘Empowering Communities to address VAWG’ by ensuring women and girls have the skills, confidence and networks to contribute and benefit economically, socially and politically. Last December, during the 16 days of Activism against Gender Based Violence, the BHC published a detailed blog titled Orange the World: The UK’s Response to Preventing VAWG in Sri Lanka.

The UK is also proud to support government, non-government and grassroots organisations in strengthening reconciliation processes. This includes reducing language barriers which prevent women from equitably accessing public services,; providing livelihood assistance and enterprise development, and demining employment to conflict-affected women. Through BC’s education reform project ‘TRANSFORM’, which includes gender-sensitive curricula, wider English language services, and the Foreign Office’s flagship future leader schemes such as Chevening and the International Leaders Programme, the UK strives to support women and girls in continuing their professional development and careers.

The issue of gender inequality is a global one. The UK is proud of the progress it has made domestically to improve the lives of women and girls. But there is no complacency; more needs to be done. For over a century, the world has celebrated International Women’s Day. But, the World Economic Forum says that securing gender parity is unlikely for almost another century. We must strive for a world where women are valued as much as their male counterparts, where women are encouraged and expected to become a politician, engineer or professional athlete. To achieve that we must enable women to access the skills, information, and resources to get a job and decent income, and to attain full control over all aspects of their lives: mind, body, and spirit. Only then can the full potential of half of the world’s population be fully realised.

That’s why the UK will continue to #ChooseToChallenge and champion a fairer, more inclusive world, at home and abroad.

BHC: Programmes and Events to support women empowerment and gender equality