The Norwegian Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Trine Jøranli Eskedal, gave the keynote address at the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka event organized to celebrate International Women’s day 2021. The theme of the discussion was the ‘Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on women and Gender Equality’.
Speaking at the event was the Chairman of the HRC, Dr. Jagath Balasuriya; Dr. Janaka Fernando, Department of Business Economics University of Sri Jayawardanapura; Dr. M. T. M. Mahees, Department Sociology University of Colombo; Dr. Chathuri Suraweera, Consultant Psychiatrist, Department of Psychiatry Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo; Prof. Chandani Liyanage, Department Sociology University of Colombo; and Prof. Wasantha Senavirathne, Department of Public and International Law, University of Colombo.
The presentations were followed by a panel discussion Chaired by Thorsten Bargfrede, Deputy Head of Mission/Head of Political, Trade and Communications Section, European Union to Sri Lanka.
The event was attended by diplomats, journalists, and representatives from several public institutions.
In her speech the Ambassador stated that supporting women’s rights and celebrating women’s success is a year-round responsibility. On Women’s Day, it’s even more important to take a stand for women’s equality and this year more than ever.
Following is the full text of her speech:
“International Women’s Day began in the early 1900s as protest against women’s lack of rights and demand for change. It has since become a global movement and celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements and contributions of women. And not to forget – it is also a call to action for accelerating women’s rights and equality.
In 2003 Melinda Gates said: “A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult”.
Today, the Royal Norwegian Embassy is proud to join forces with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to celebrate International Women’s Day and be a voice for women’s rights.
In 1995 over 30,000 women from 200 countries attended the Fourth World Conference on Women in China, where the Platform for Action, an agenda for women’s rights and empowerment, was created. At that historic convening, 68 countries made commitments to recognizing women’s rights as human rights. Women’s political, social and economic empowerment is also at the heart of the global goals for sustainable development; a global agenda to end poverty by 2030, unanimously adopted today by the 193 Member States of the United Nations. What all this tells us is that gender equality is smart economics, and realizing the potential of both halves of the population is crucial to achieving a country’s development goals.
We are currently in the middle of a devastating pandemic that has claimed thousands of lives and is continuing to affect people across the world. The Covid-19 is harming health, social and economic well-being of the world’s population and women and girls are harder hit than men and boys. The pandemic has the potential to reverse our progress towards the sustainable development goals and in particular, reverse the progress made, to date, on achieving gender equality for women and girls.
Pandemics and crises affect girls, boys, women and men in different ways and can contribute to deepen existing inequalities. Today nearly 60% of women in the world, work in the informal economy – earning less, saving less and as businesses close down due to the pandemic, millions of women are losing their jobs and will be slower to re-enter the workforce once the economies open up again.
Schools have been closed for an extended period and in many countries, there is a real risk that many girls will not be able to return to school complete their education. Early and unintended pregnancy is on the rise and so are harmful practices such as child marriages. Women overall are therefore at a greater risk of falling into poverty.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, emerging data and reports, have shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified. UN reports that globally nearly 1 in 5 women have experienced violence during the last year. Many of these women are now trapped at home often together with their abuser and have limited access to shelters or other protection services.
The impact of the pandemic on women is evident in my own country as well. We see that unpaid care work is not equally divided between men and women. Women in general spend more time on household chores and taking care of the kids and elderly, than their partners and they do this on top of attending their regular jobs. The pandemic has aggravated this situation and re-enforced unequal gender roles even in Norway that is considered one of the most gender equal countries in the world.
The consequence of all these factors combined is a greater denial of women’s rights and women’s opportunities. Progress lost takes years to regain.
We all understand that the Covid-19 is challenging global economies and support systems and many countries are struggling to get the required resources and human capital to deal with the outfall.
However, we must not forget that gender equality and women’s rights are vital to get through this pandemic together, to recover faster and ensure a better future for everyone.
That is why all governments should put women and girls at the center of their efforts to recover from the pandemic. Efforts to revive the economy such as cash transfers, credits and loans should target women and social and economic safety networks must be expanded.
Unpaid care work must be recognized as a vital contribution to the economy. It is important that the voices of female leaders and women in decision making positions in the public and private sector are heard. Fundamentally, all policy responses to the crisis in order to be successful must be embedded on a gender lens that account for women’s unique needs, responsibilities and perspectives.
One of Norway’s main priorities for the Covid-19 recovery is to address the issues facing women and girls. Gender equality is vital for a recovery and key to promoting sustainable economic growth. We must make sure that women take part in decision making processes, that girls go back to schools, that women have access to adequate health care and protection services, including sexual and reproductive health. We need to ensure that women’s rights are protected and efforts to rebuild the economy is targeted on women.
Our experience is that it pays to invest in education of girls and increasing women’s equal participation in the labor market. Most people assume that Norway’s economic success is due to our oil and gas industry, fish industry and hydropower. However, an equally important factor is the value of equal participation of men and women in the labor force. In contrast to natural resources, this is a perpetual source of income.
Covid-19 is a challenge we must overcome together. As the pandemic is global, the solutions must be global.
Together with South Africa, Norway is co-chairing the Facilitation Council for the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator, also called the ACT-Accelerator, which has been set up to promote equitable access to Covid-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines. If we are to succeed in beating this pandemic, we must ensure that equitable access to vaccines, tests and treatments are available to all. Norway’s main task is mobilizing for continued support for the global response to the pandemic. Our work also involves providing advice and support for the work being done under the four ACT-Accelerator pillars (diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccines and health system strengthening).
In times of crisis leadership is important and world leaders should be cautious not to use the pandemic to violate human rights and to shrink the democratic space.
The Norwegian Prime Minister, Mrs. Erna Solberg, recently said that – Recover efforts give us a unique opportunity to steer the world and our countries towards greener paths – and this should be the aim of leaders across the globe.
The current pandemic has been a magnifying glass on women and leadership. We have seen discussions on whether female-led countries have handled the coronavirus better than countries led by men.
We don’t need to draw any conclusions on women and men leaders in this context, but what we must recognize is that countries respecting human rights, and thus women’s rights, where women are able to reach leadership positions and be equal participants in decision making processes, will be the best able to manage any crisis and ensure sustainable recovery and economic growth for all.
To get there and stay there it takes a genuine and concentrated effort on the part of policymakers and of corporate sector. It takes courage and determination on the part of women and the men who champion them.
An overall national and global recovery process that is based on democracy, gender equality and human rights is, I believe, key to win the fight against Covid-19 and realize the 2030 agenda on sustainable development. We must build back better, greener and with greater equality ensuring that no one is left behind.
Thank you and I wish you all a Happy Women’s Day!”