Female Forward International
Representation and Empowerment: Ten women and their call for Diversity and Inclusion

iLead - International Women's Day Event Sri Lanka

iLead - International Women's Day Event Sri Lanka

© FNF Sri Lanka

Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, together with NextGenSL, organised an event named "iLead", which was held on the 8th of March to commemorate International Women's day and shine a spotlight on what reforms women felt they deserved, through having ten highly accomplished women to make a ten minute speech on what they would change and do differently if they were to become president.

The event commenced with a welcome from Hubertus von Welck, Head of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation of Sri Lanka, who went on to say that "The foundation's core value is freedom with responsibility for all walks of life, for everyone" and that "women empowerment is part of our international agenda."

But the main event was the speeches made by the ten influential women who were invited to make a speech about what they would do if they became president - Kasturi Chellaraj Wilson, group CEO of the Hemas conglomerate, Varuni Amunugama, the Joint Managing Director of the Triad group, Dr Santhushya Fernando, a Public Health Specialist and the Deputy Director of the Sri Jayawardenapura hospital, Sarah Kabir, activist and author, Sriyani Kulawansa, former Olympic-qualified athlete, Nilshani de Silva, a differently abled teacher a motivational speaker, Professor Janith Liyanage, Vice-Chairperson of the University Grants Commision, Ameena Hussein, a sociologist and author, Samadhani Kiriwandeniya, former Chairperson of the Sanasa Bank, and Indeewari Amuwatte, Head of English News at Ada Derana, who could not make it to the event.

Varuni Amunugama-Fernando, who spoke first, began with speaking of her enthusiasm for the current government regime and went on to emphasise how she wished that she would make sure that there would be more censorship in media, and would arrange a "war room" in which they would select what news they would show the country so it would always be perceived in a positive light, a highly controversial view that seemed to include a few human rights violations with her idea of a utopia.

iLead - International Women's Day Event Sri Lanka
iLead - International Women's Day Event Sri Lanka © FNF Sri Lanka

Dr Santhushya Fernando, recognising how we live in an age of "populism, anti-politics and post-politics," went on to say in her impassioned speech, that she would make a more secular constitution devoid of the centuries old archaic laws established by the British and the Dutch which Sri Lanka still lived under. She would establish a government where everyone, despite their religion, gender or sexual orientation, will be treated fairly and given the respect they deserve. She also said that she would work hard to repatriate the working class migrant workers who were contributing more to the economy, first, than the privileged, and that she would immediately implement the Child Protection Bill in full force, which she feels hasn't been done before.

Nilshani de Silva spoke about how the education system needed to be changed in order to make people with disabilities like her have access to better facilities to make them achieve their full potential, and how she will help people with special needs find jobs since they were still largely ignored by the public. Former Olympic Athlete Sriyani Kulawansa spoke about how there should be measures implemented to help those who have finished their sporting career and help them in the long run to adjust. She went on to remark that we needed to build a government that was suited for Sri Lanka itself, and should not be based on idealised standards of other countries.

Kasthuri Chellerajah mentioned that politics should be separated from civil service, and they must do what is right for the people first and foremost, instead of advancements for the politicians themselves, going on to iterate that people should be taught to embrace diversity and not judge people by their race, religion or gender identity.

iLead - International Women's Day Event Sri Lanka
iLead - International Women's Day Event Sri Lanka © FNF Sri Lanka

Sarah Kabir, meanwhile, spoke of how she had never asked herself the question of what she would do if she became president - she knew that, as both a woman and Muslim, she would never be offered that privilege. She also remarked, through a poem, that her leadership would create an inclusive environment for all, where she would not encourage misogyny and racism, and put an end to the pseudo-nationalism present in this country.

Professor Janitha Liyanage said that she would change the way the education system was approached in this country, and would switch to one that was less examination-centred, placing more emphasis on extracurricular activities. However, she also said that the education policy shouldn't be changed since there had been too many changes already.

Ameena Hussein, who said she had believed there was great potential for women in this country, goes on to express her disappointment at how she had felt that this country was becoming more conservative and less liberal as time went on, also, like, Dr Santhushya Fernando, believing that a secular constitution was necessary since religion shouldn't factor in any state decision making process. 

iLead - International Women's Day Event Sri Lanka
iLead - International Women's Day Event Sri Lanka © FNF Sri Lanka

And last but not least, Samadani Kiriwandeniya will make sure that social, environmental and economic policies will take centre stage. She would also make sure that people would be perceived as humans, instead of their race or ethnicity, and even though it would be a controversial move on her part, she would make it so that birth certificates would not denote their nationality. 

This event, with the speeches of these women on what they would do if they became leader of this country, put a spotlight on the inclusivity that most of them felt that this country deserved, with their views on how they would lead the Nation through inclusion, equality and educational reforms.