Compiled by Savithri Rodrigo
CLOSING THE GENDER GAP
Mandani Tennakoon speaks her mind about women’s empowerment
Q: What’s the good, bad and ugly here in Sri Lanka?
A: The ‘good’ is that Sri Lanka has one of the most helpful and hospitable societies, never failing to lend a helping hand. This collective goodness is one of the greatest qualities the country possesses.
The lack of sustainable development in many sectors including education, energy and construction is the ‘bad.’ Development must conform to the changing times or the country will stagnate.
Tarnishing the country’s image, the ‘ugly’ is corruption and the negative political influence. Meritocracy is also not practised but influence holds sway, which means that talent is never optimised.
Q: What are the main challenges facing the country today?
A: Corruption, increasing crime, political influence in all spheres and poor management of natural resources. Sri Lanka is among the top five nations for child exploitation; and if this is not addressed, there will be no future for the country.
And although Sri Lanka is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, their sustainable development and utilisation is lacking.
Q: What changes do you see in the context of nation-building and reconciliation?
A: The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report exposed the reasons for the ‘ethnic conflict,’ providing some closure to those affected [by the war] and recommending preventive measures.
While Sri Lanka has developed in terms of infrastructure, urban regeneration and the strengthening of foreign relationships, further development of national mechanisms is sometimes hampered due to a lack of will to implement them.
Q: What changes do you see in the spheres of education and women’s empowerment?
A: Among the various initiatives to develop and diversify education in Sri Lanka is the plan to distribute tablets to A-Level students and establish private entities for higher studies, both of which are commendable.
The Reawakening Project (RaP) that focusses on livelihood restoration, economic reintegration and the provision of support to those impacted by the conflict, as well as the Family Economy Enhancement Package (FEEP) that assists nearly 6,000 war widows, are both good examples of women’s empowerment.
With only 35 percent of the working population being women, I believe that more vocational training options and awareness campaigns on the importance of education must be mooted to narrow the gender gap. And there is an urgent need for strong, educated women to enter the political arena.
Q: How can Sri Lanka retain its talent?
A: By introducing a more diverse array of subjects for the A-Level examination so that students can pursue innovative and creative career options. A majority of students would also benefit if the state system were to remove itself from conventional and traditional methodologies, and move with the times.
While 300,000 students sit the A-Levels each year, 150,000 perform well enough to gain entry to state universities. But due to limited space, only 25,000 students have that opportunity, which results in graduates being forced to seek other avenues for higher education.
Q: What are your expectations of the world and its people?
A: Everyone in this world has to transform the way they look at differences. They should view difference not as a threat to their existence but embrace and appreciate it holistically.
Q: Do the present world leaders live up to your expectations?
A: Having watched the changes in the political landscape in the US, I would say ‘no.’ World leaders must validate the implications of their decisions, consider civil rights and liberties, and most of all be humane.
In a global context, women’s empowerment should be uplifted and they must have a say in this, which doesn’t happen. For example, the anti-abortion law in the US was signed by a male while seven other men looked on.
Q: Who is responsible for climate change and global warming?
A: Every one of us is responsible. On average, a person is responsible for 4.5 tonnes of CO2 annually, all within a vicious unending cycle with the objective of development.
However, the average carbon footprint per capita has reduced due to the advancement of technology. By using solar power in vehicles, factories and equipment, a virtual zero-carbon footprint can be maintained while the 3R system is being implemented quite widely.
Most importantly, mainstream and social media must spread awareness, empowering more individuals to fight for the cause.