Constitutional Recognition of Women’s Equality in Sri Lanka and Violence against Women
- Gender equality and non discrimination of women must be a guiding principle of State machinery and State action in Sri Lanka.
- Chapter III of the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka sets out Fundamental Rights, which ensure for example non discrimination on the ground of sex (and other specified grounds), which can be used in responding to violence against women in keeping with provisions in Article 12 (2).
- Article 12 on gender equality has not been used in cases of violence against women. However Article 11 on torture has been interpreted as covering rape and grave sexual abuse while in the custody of state officials.
- Article 11 of the Constitution recognizes the right to freedom from torture and inhuman degrading treatment.
According to Article 17 of the Constitution every person shall be entitled to apply to the Supreme Court as provided in Article 126, in respect of the infringement or imminent infringement by executive or administrative action, of a fundamental right to which such person is entitled under the provisions of Chapter III.
Sri Lanka Women’s Charter
The Sri Lanka Women’s Charter was adopted on the 3rd of March 1993. It is the main policy statement of the State regarding the rights of women, expressing the commitment of the State to remove all forms of discrimination against women and address crucial issues relevant to them. The Charter aims at eradicating sex based discrimination and at achieving gender equality and establishes standards to be observed in seven broad areas. They are as follows: political and civil rights; rights within the family; the right to education and training; the right to economic activity and benefits; the right to healthcare and nutrition; the right to protection from social discrimination and the right to protection from gender based violence. The Women’s Charter is a ‘Bill of Rights’ for women. The State adopted the Women’s Charter and established the National Committee on Women recognizing that discrimination against women is a reality in Sri Lanka despite the country’s constitutional guarantee of non-discrimination on the grounds, inter alia, of sex, and despite Sri Lanka’s ratification of international instruments against such discrimination, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
The Charter Addresses Violence against Women
Special instances of gender based violence are identified as domestic violence, sexual harassment at work place, sexual harassment in public transport, various forms of violence in areas of armed conflict and serious crimes such as rape in all sections of society. The Women’s Charter envisages broad results in eliminating gender based violence. The Charter aims at the recognition and acceptance of women’s rights as human rights, and the creation of an environment where women can live without fear of violence and in dignity.
Such measures shall include:
The promotion of legislative reforms not only in terms of the substantive law but also with regard to preventive and punitive measures which would clearly recognize the rights of the women victims-survivors of violence.
The promotion of structural reforms within the law enforcement machinery and sensitization of enforcement authorities so as to strengthen their capacity to deal with crimes of violence directed against women.
The provision of support to non governmental organizations, community based organizations and programmes, which provide support and counselling services to women victims-survivors of violence, including those affected by armed conflict and civil strife (Article 16, Sri Lanka Women’s Charter).
Ministry of Child Development & Women’s Affairs
The Ministry of Child Development & Women’s Affairs was established in 2005 with the objective of addressing issues relating to child development and empowerment of women.
Women’s Bureau of Sri Lanka
The Women’s Bureau is tasked with the development, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and coordination of policies and programmes for the realisation of women’s rights in Sri Lanka.
National Committee on Women
The most significant introduction to State machinery to work towards the rights of women made by the Charter was the setting up of the National Committee on Women (NCW), a Presidential Committee (Articles 17 – 23). It has a fifteen member Committee to monitor the rights under the Charter. The members of the Committee are persons competent in several areas which are of particular concern to women such as law, health, economic development, education, science and technology, and the environment as well as persons who have distinguished themselves in voluntary organizations or in the sphere of women’s activities.
National Child Protection Authority (NCPA)
The National Child Protection Authority was established under the National Child Protection Act, No 50 of 1998. The main mandate of the NCPA is to formulate policies and programmes for the protection of children and the prevention of child abuse. Link: http://www.childprotection.gov.lk/
Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment
The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE), is the foremost organisation responsible for the protection and the welfare aspects of Sri Lanka’s migrant workers and their families. The Bureau was established in 1985 under the Act, No. 21 and amended by Act, No. 4 of 1994, the primary legislation that deals with foreign employment.
The functions of the Committee are:
To entertain and scrutinise complaints of gender discrimination and channel such complaints where appropriate to the relevant administrative authorities and persons concerned or bodies for necessary action;
To refer complaints of violation of the provisions contained in the Charter to governmental and non-governmental organisations for redress, legal aid and / or mediation services;
To monitor such action and require annual reports of progress from relevant administrative authorities and make these reports widely available within the country;
To evaluate the impact of all legislative and development policies on the rights and responsibilities of women as contained in this Charter;
To help realise the objectives of the Charter through the encouragement of relevant research and to make recommendations for reforms based on such research; and
To advise the Minister (responsible for the Status of Women) on such matters relating to the Status of Women as the Minister may refer to the Committee for its consideration, or as the Committee may deem appropriate.