Activist, public speaker and cause marketing consultant Shanuki de Alwis asserted on LMDtv that “women tend to struggle with identity, autonomy and their sense of independence.”

Highlighting the difficulties that women may face as a result of societal conditioning, she added: “There are many identity struggles to overcome and the need to chart your course because the world may be telling you to do one thing while your heart tells you to do something else.”

“You will struggle emotionally and psychologically; but at the end of the day, you learn that these are all lessons as you grow older – they are part of building the foundation for who you will become,” de Alwis explained, maintaining that women should “follow whatever your heart tells you to do – and stick to your convictions.”

As for achieving gender balance in the workplace, she believes that meritocracy is important: “It shouldn’t be about appointing women to managerial positions simply because they are women… that would also be unfair by not recognising the skills, talent and intelligence that they bring to the table.”

“I hope that future appointments, promotions or empowerment are based on the value added rather than gender,” de Alwis added. However, she acknowledged that quotas may be needed in a patriarchal and chauvinistic system while expressing hopes that such measures would not be needed to achieve a gender balance over time.

With regard to the export of labour, de Alwis believes this serves as a crucial source of income for the country. However, she pointed out that there is a need to re-evaluate the type of labour being exported and upskilling measures as domestic workers may be exploited when they are not cognisant of their rights.

“Ideally, Sri Lanka shouldn’t be known for sending domestic workers overseas,” she asserted, noting that “if we can invest in our women, and empowering and upskilling them, we can export skilled workers to various industries.”

She continued: “This will enable them to contribute to the country as its image and recognition for the quality of its labour would improve.”

According to de Alwis, there is a need for a new attitude and shift in Sri Lanka. “The patriarchy needs to be dismantled from its roots – systems and infrastructure are not female friendly, and these aren’t prioritised anymore,” she maintained.

On the trending subject of working from home (WFH), de Alwis noted that the benefits for women include the ability to tackle other responsibilities without stressing about not being around their children or completing household tasks.

However, she pointed out that the drawback would be the stress one undergoes in trying to juggle all these responsibilities: “It will be difficult to not have that space – in an office environment, there would be a psychological distance between their home and work lives, to be able to focus and be productive.”

Additionally, de Alwis said there may be expectations of women being available at all times when working from home.

“The WFH model should be looked at responsibly by employees and employers so that women are able to manage their time,” she opined while noting that gender equality is important in this environment as well, explaining: “Fathers should also contribute equally to responsibilities at home so that the onus is not solely on women.”

In de Alwis’ view, creating a model that works for women will lead to many opting to WFH as they would also feel they’re capable of addressing the needs of their children and other responsibilities at home.

As for private sector initiatives that could help create a level playing field for women and men, she insisted that a zero tolerance policy towards discrimination and sexism is a must-have.

“If there are males in senior positions who are toxic in terms of their views on gender and treatment of females in the workforce, they must be removed regardless of how successful they may be,” she summed up.