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Certain religious, cultural practices a barrier to women’s empowerment: Harsha

Certain religious and cultural practices are barriers to women’s empowerment in Sri Lanka, National Policies and Economic Affairs Deputy Minister Harsha de Silva said.

“The challenges that we face in this country and in the region, I think, has a lot do with what we call culture: religious practices and societal norms,” he said.

“There seems to be barriers that restrict women’s agency.”

Deputy Minister De Silva was addressing a conference on women’s empowerment in South Asia at the Jetwing Hotel Tuesday morning.

Eventhough rates of women’s education have risen significantly in recent years, “there’s a significant unexplained gap between education achievements and women ending up working and having an income.”

He said men’s expectations that women stay in the home and take care of children are one of the main roadblocks to the workforce.

“Unpaid labour that women are expected to do, particularly in this part of the world, is a main cultural barrier,” he said.

De Silva said that he personally is an example of this disparity: he said he had not attended any of his daughter’s parents’ meetings with teachers this year, while his wife had.

“This is something that husbands and wives need to sit down and sort out internally,” he said. “But I must tell you, on Sundays I do go to the market with my wife and help choose vegetables,” he added. “And a lot of people tell me this is really nice to see, and I take a little bit of pride in that.”

In terms of other barriers to work, the Deputy Minister said Sri Lanka’s reputation regarding sexual harassment was “embarrassing.”

“Harassment in public transport has been a pernial problem and as a result women don’t want to go to work in those packed buses and trains,” he said.

He said the government should further incentivize women’s entrepreneurship. He also praised the recent initiative to establish a 25 percent quota for women in local government elections.