The theme for International Women’s Day (8 March) 2020 is, "I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights". The theme is aligned with UN Women’s new multigenerational campaign, Generation Equality, which marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Adopted in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, the Beijing Platform for Action is recognised as the most progressive roadmap for the empowerment of women and girls, everywhere. The year 2020 is a pivotal year for advancing gender equality worldwide, as the global community takes stock of progress made for women’s rights since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action. It will also mark several other galvanizing moments in the gender equality movement: a five-year milestone towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals; the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.
The emerging global consensus is that despite some progress, real change has been agonizingly slow for the majority of women and girls in the world. Multiple obstacles remain unchanged in law and in culture. Women and girls continue to be undervalued; they work more and earn less and have fewer choices; and experience multiple forms of violence at home and in public spaces. Furthermore, there is a significant threat of rollback of hard-won feminist gains. The year 2020 represents an unmissable opportunity to mobilise global action to achieve gender equality and human rights of all women and girls.
Life takes this opportunity to interview women representing diverse career paths and interests who express their hopes and aspirations for a better tomorrow for women and girls the world over. “Knowing what must be done does away with fear.”
- Rosa Parks.
1. With the dawn of Women’s Day 2020, what changes would you like to initiate in your own life and what steps would you like to take, which would help make you a more whole and productive person, enabling you to better contribute to the upliftment of women and the girl child, as well as humanity as a whole, whilst embodying all that you believe in and stand for?
2 What single initiative would you recommend to ensure gender equality and realie women’s rights?
3 Who would you say has been the most influential man in your life and why is / was he so?
Manisha Dissanayake is an Attorney-at-Law practising in the appellate courts of Sri Lanka, with a focus on fundamental rights law. She obtained her LL.B. at the London School of Economics and Political Science in London.
1 At this juncture of my life, I am trying to make changes that will allow me to hone the skills I need to be a good lawyer. I am trying to work harder and smarter to advance The Arka Initiative, because it is so important that young people advocate for other young people, and to also normalize women in places and positions of consequence, particularly in societies such as ours. I am also trying to see, even more keenly, the contentment and revitalisation that can be found in familiar spaces and sincere people, and to be resilient during setbacks and challenges.
2 In order to ensure gender equality and the realization of women’s rights, there are complex issues that need to be resolved that require a holistic and multi-faceted approach, and can’t be wrought by simplistic changes or mechanisms. Our goals should include changing mindsets, shifting paradigms and most importantly, encouraging a multitude of viable initiatives that address equal and more meaningful opportunities for women, wider and more effective legal protection, sexual and reproductive health, freedom from stigma and harassment, and so on.
3 As hackneyed as though this statement may be, my father is the most influential man in my life. Despite the fact that we disagree on many things, and have different philosophies of life, he has had a profound impact on me.
Co-founder and CEO of IronOne Technologies & BoardPAC
A Sri Lankan Technology entrepreneur who focuses on making Sri Lankan technology products gain global brand recognition.
1 I believe that anything is possible if we persevere. In 2020, my determination is to continue to persevere with added vigor to achieve the ambitious goals I ( along with my team) have taken on with my companies BoardPAC and Ironone Technologies to conquer global markets and bring ‘made in Sri Lanka’ software products to top global brand ranking.My contribution for the upliftment of women and girl children is I believe by celebrating each step of our journey and the ongoing achievements year on year that move us towards ultimate goals and to specially celebrate and share it with the community as achievements of a female leader, a female entrepreneur.
2 Building self-confidence. It is the single-most important inner requirement for gender equality, while all other success factors such as social readiness, laws and legal readiness, education readiness, corporate practices readiness, are all external environmental factors towards reaching gender equality.
3 Upali Wijewardene, the Sri Lankan who founded the Upali Group with popular brands such as Kandos chocolates, Unic Radios, Upali Mazda, and Upali Fiat.
Umayal Venugopal is a disciple of the internationally renowned Vedanta Philosopher Swami Parthasarathy. She is a philosopher, teacher, speaker and writer. She conducts Vedanta sessions and Self-management programmes.
1 Living is an art, a skill, a technique. Vedanta, the science of self-management teaches the technique of right living focussing on the comprehensive development of the human personality which empowers one with dynamism in action, positive emotions and clarity in thinking. I have been studying and researching on Vedanta since 2002 at Vedanta Academy, India. Also engaged in imparting this knowledge of life and living in Sri Lanka through weekly study classes, talks and youth workshops to the betterment of the county and humanity at large. My commitment is to continue studying and imbibing the values and disseminating the knowledge of Vedanta.
2 One needs a powerful intellect to understand one’s duties and rights in life. Humans have neglected the development of the intellect for a long time. This has resulted in a lack of proper understanding of the role and duties of both women and men for a harmonious existence of the society.
3 Swami Parthasarathy affectionately known as Swamiji is my guru and guide. Swamiji is a pre-eminent Vedanta philosopher, author and speaker.
Mina is the co-founder of Different, rebuilding property management. She’s currently a board advisor at AirTasker and has been actively involved with mentoring and advising teams on product questions big and small.
1 An area I found hard, especially when I started my career, was a lack of strong females in leadership that I could look to as an example. I’ve spent much of my career in male-dominated industries — my first role out of university was at Goldman Sachs, and from there, I landed product-focused roles at Google and Uber. But at the time, strong females in leadership that I could look to were few and far between. Couple that with a lack of ethnically-diverse women in leadership roles and it has been a challenge. The industry is definitely getting better, but it is still something that we can do more to improve.
2 We need to place greater focus on diversity within leadership roles. Young females need to be able to see examples of what the possibilities are and at the moment, while it is getting better, there is still a long way to go. Part of overcoming this challenge is actually changing mentality. Numerous studies have shown that diverse teams (gender, ethnicity, backgrounds) see the most impactful results.
3 Given that this is IWD, I think we should focus on women! I would actually say that the most influential person in my life has been my mother. I can’t imagine being who I am today without her support and encouragement.
Ronali Perera is the Founder / Director of Refreshing Ayurvedic Wellness Pvt Ltd , popularly known as RAW Sri Lanka. She specializes in Organic cold-pressed juices and detox cleanses. RAW was established in June 2016.
1 In 2020 I would like to spend more time with me and truly love and nourish my mind, body and soul because I think you always come first and without loving yourself first you won’t be able to share love with anyone else. Most of us are so busy with getting things done that we neglect ourselves. Once this is accomplished I believe your productivity will increase and you will have so much more to offer other women and children. This is something very important that we need to teach young girls so that they can live happier, healthier and fuller lives and be equipped to help each other and grow together.
2 I think valuing women more by enforcing equal pay will change the whole dynamic. The moment women are seen as equal and as valued as a man, people will automatically start treating women differently. The problem is, they are not seen as equal. Globally women can work harder and longer hours but still get paid less than a man doing the same job.
3 It would be my father, or Thathi as I call him. He has always believed in me and supported me and pushed me to achieve more. “No” was never a word in my fathers vocabulary when it came to me asking him for any sort of help.
Lopa Rahaman leads Corporate Governance (CG) Advisory Services for South Asia. In addition, she provides investment support on CG matters to IFC investment clients originating in the region.
1 At this stage in my life, I can reflect on what I have learned, especially through my 18 years of work experience. Like most other women, I am also trying to strike the most effective balance between work and family. Throughout my career, I have had to navigate between taking care of my two daughters, and sometimes, my elderly parents and my career. The ability to balance work and life has a great influence in one’s life and career choices, these are the decisions in life that ultimately matter. I believe that today, I am better able to share my life lessons so that other women can benefit from my experience. This is what I wish to do going forward. Working at IFC, on corporate governance and ensuring equal opportunities for women on boards, my work is centered around trying to making a stronger impact in contributing to the upliftment of women and girls.
2 I believe that its always the small steps that lead to big changes. I would not have one single recommendation that can ensure gender equality, but bring about a change in mind set. Both men and women need to appreciate the value of being a caregiver and a breadwinner, appreciate that we have a role to play in being both. Doing your own small tasks relieves a huge burden on others, and gives you a sense of accomplishment which encourages you to take on more.
3 I would say my father has been the most influential man in my life. He always pushed and encouraged me to take the path less travelled.
As the youngest granddaughter of Chitrasena and Vajira, Thaji started learning Kandyan dancing at the tender age of seven and began touring with the Dance Company in 2000.
1 Carrying on a legacy which was predominantly male, today the Chitrasena Dance School and Company is headed by a group of amazingly strong women whom I am proud to call family. We are able to run the institution the way we do because of the support and encouragement we receive from the men in our lives, be they parents, partners or even a colleague. We have mutual admiration, understanding and respect for each other’s personal and professional lives and work ethics.
2 It is important to start at home with family. I have been lucky to have my personal and professional lives intertwined, which is why I feel I have a very secure and supportive home and work environment, even though I am a woman in a male dominated profession.
3 The most influential man in my life, despite the fact that I was ever so scared of him, his presence and his stature is undoubtedly my grandfather Guru Chitrasena. Today his dream has become my dream and his strong and inspiring presence keeps drawing me time and time again to his temple of dance. It was the environment that he created where there was no difference between men and women, that has allowed the Chitrasena Dance School to become what it is today.
Visakha Tillekeratne is an independent Consultant on Nutrition, Food, Security and Community Development, and Chief Commissioner Sri Lanka Girl Guides Association.
1 I would like to acquire in depth knowledge on STEM - science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This will enable me to figure out many technological innovations where I can be self sufficient with repairs, enable mobility by understanding about vehicles and driving them and this would help visit women and girls and impart this knowledge to them. One of the biggest issues in the male, female divide are the technological competency barriers and resultant earnings
2 Stop the Violence. Zero Tolerance of Violence. This includes physical, sexual, verbal, mental and economic violence. Violence breaks the female spirit, scars us for life, prevents access to many platforms such as political participation, prevents economic mobility and freedom of movement for work and leisure and destroys the comfortable atmosphere at home.
3 My father undoubtedly. He has not said one word that a girl is less capable than a boy and has created the space for me to pursue my dreams. He had a vision on gender equity long before the Beijing Platform came into being.
Ramola Sivasundaram is an Associate of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators, UK. A Fellow of the Institute of Financial Accountants, UK and a Fellow of the Institute of Management.
1 I have spent 48 years of my life contributing in my own way to empowering women and the girl child, through a series of programmes and meaningful projects carried out by Zonta International, an organisation whose objectives are the empowerment of women. At this stage of my life, I will continue to work for the causes I believe in.
2 Making sure that there are an equal number of women employed in management positions taking leadership roles in the corporate sector as well as in the political field. They should be given the right laws and policies and necessary support to balance both family life and successful careers in leadership.
3 My husband is the perfect example of a male who accepts women as equals. During my entire working career in the field of education he has supported me, his daughter and now his 3 grand daughters, not forgetting his mother-in-law. We have always worked together as equals both at home and in our careers.
Rosanna Flamer-Caldera Is the founder and Executive Director of EQUAL GROUND (2004-to present).
1 I started EQUAL GROUND in 2004 to advocate for the rights of the LGBTIQ citizens of this country who are still marginalised and mistreated due to archaic British Laws that criminalise their love. In a way, my journey started many, many years ago. This women’s’ day 8th March 2020, I want to focus on the many amazing Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender women who have contributed and still continue to contribute to this country in many ways but have not been recognised or respected for who they are and what they have achieved.
2 I believe in the power is education. In order to reverse patriarchy and misogyny we must start creating change through education from a very young age. Only then can we erase or attempt to erase lifetimes of inequality and patriarchy. We need to harness the power that women and girls have to enrich our country and bring it in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) particularly SDG 5 which is Gender Equality and SDG 10 – Reduced Inequalities. From kindergarten through adulthood - we need to enhance the student curriculum to talk about equality, encourage equality and practice equality in every sphere of our lives. LGBTIQ and minorities within a respectful and diversity-oriented workplace. The Government must start sensitising and educating within itself to enhance and respect the participation of women in politics and put in place legislature that protects and promotes equality for every citizen of this country.
3 The most influential man in my life was my father. He taught me to just be who I am and go after what I wanted without fear, without hesitation. His generosity knew no bounds. He lived life to the fullest but also worked hard and helped others who needed a hand to get by in life. He was extraordinary and born way ahead of his time.
Dr. Sulochana Segera
Founder/Chairperson Women in Management. Dr Segera is one of Sri Lanka’s leading social entrepreneurs, trainers and motivational speakers with over 25 years of experience.
1 The most vital aspect I realised with the dawn of 2020 was that I should place more emphasis on developing a healthy lifestyle which will in turn ensure the wellness of my body and mind. I shall give more emphasis to having inner peace which will help me to be a more whole and productive person. Also, I am planning on mentoring a person who shares the passions as I do.
2 The best initiative to ensure gender equality is to ensure that there is no competition created among the ‘genders’. Both men and women especially, youth should be educated to respect each other. The values of humanity should be ingrained in the minds of people irrespective of gender. The emphasis on ‘gender’ should be replaced with ‘humanity’.
3 The most influential man in my life is my father. He never set boundaries in my life because I am a woman. He never restricted my dreams or freedom because I was born as a female. He treated everyone on equal terms.
Anoka Primrose Abeyrathne
Anoka is a pioneering social entrepreneur working to empower women and girls through social enterprise and digital upskilling
1 I believe the work we have been doing has been empowering women to take control of their own lives independently. For myself, I hope to meditate more, and workout more since taking care of myself would mean that I could contribute better to our expanding programmes”.
2 For men to gain awareness and education on gender equality. From workplaces to relationships, it’s time that there was more equality and understanding of what some women go through just to show up at a decision-making table, very similar to The Man song by Taylor Swift.
3 My father. He brought me up to be strong and independent, and never stopped me from following my dreams.
Dr Leonie Solomons
Dr Leonie Solomons is the Executive Director, Language Matters, Learning Matters and Waste Matters. Besides holding a PhD in Cybernetics (bears similarity to Systems Thinking), Leonie has a 20 year career in the Australian banking sector.
1 My focus this year is two-fold. Firstly, an inward journey of reflection of seeking to understand the spiritual dimension of life and its relationship to me and the work I do. For this I am committed to making a study of the commentaries of old Vedantic text. I hope this daily journey of reflection (a big ask) will translate to a calmer and a more meaning disposition towards my second focus – an improvement in the attitude and effectiveness of the public sector which includes serving women and the girl child. Having returned to SL 10 years ago, my focus has been developing services that will benefit SL. This includes, developing OCR for the Sinhala alphabet and translating into Sinhala and Tamil a simulation game that will help senior school students to have a hands-on experience of System Thinking (also known in Germany as Interconnected Thinking).
2 The major stumbling block is our societal norms that place women as a second tier human being, however rich and famous a woman be or their pedigree. In my view, there is no single initiative that will ensure general equality and women’s rights. It is more a medley of interrelated set of initiatives in practice that needs focus. If I am forced to nominate one, then I would start with confidence building, based not on gloss and pretty dresses, but on intellectual strength of character. Interestingly in the spiritual domain (beyond the physical), gender as a construct does not exist.
3 This was the late Professor Stafford Beer, my PhD supervisor in the UK.
High Commissioner, British High Commission, Sri Lanka
1 Increasing the opportunities for women and girls is a personal priority for me, and a major focus for the UK government. Personally, I’m trying to educate myself more on the steps I can take to make a difference. I’ve recently been really inspired by Caroline Criado Perez’s ‘Invisible Women’ and the information and analysis on the gender data gap it highlights. I try to ensure I raise gender issues with all my interlocutors and within the High Commission we have started a Colombo chapter of our staff group ‘FCO Women’. I’ve been both a mentor and mentee and have benefited from working with and job shadowing some fantastic role models. One of the things I am looking forward to this International Women’s Day is launching a competition for a young woman in Sri Lanka to spend a day with us as ‘High Commissioner for a day’. We are also bringing together groups of women who work in human rights and business to explore practical ways we can work together to improve opportunities and protections for women.
2 I would ensure that every girl had 12 years of quality education. Educating girls increases their voice in their communities, improves their ability to choose when to get married, how many children to have and gives them greater control over their assets, income and their own bodies. It also brings real benefits to their families and societies.
3 My husband Tony - he has been incredibly supportive of me throughout my career.
R. Demet Şekercioğlu
Turkish Ambassador to Sri Lanka
1 If I were a magician, I would like to stop the wars around the world. But let’s be realistic: I am not, and I can’t pretend changing the world and the fate of humanity on my own. I have a daughter and what I am trying to do is to raise her as a responsible, kind-hearted and a strong girl who will be able to stand on her own feet when she becomes an adult. We have a saying in Turkish “many a mickle makes a muckle”. If our girls are strong enough, that will certainly contribute to the progress of our societies.
2 In order to contribute to the upliftment of women and girls in our societies and to ensure gender equality, we have to educate both girls and boys, women and men. We have to teach them to first accept and respect each other as human beings.
3 The most influential man in my life has been my father because he is the one who always believed in me and supported in making decisions since my childhood which helped me to become the strong woman I am today.