Japan-Sri Lanka Joint Seminar on Women’s Economic Empowerment

On 7th August, the Embassy of Japan together with Women in Management (WIM), a Sri Lankan organization held a joint seminar on women’s economic empowerment at Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute, Colombo.
Graced by honorable panelists including Ms. Michiko Achilles, Representative of Japan for “EMPOWER”, the G20 Alliance for the Empowerment and Progression of Women's Economic Representation, the seminar and the panel discussion shed light on the challenges and good practices of women’s economic empowerment and participation in decision-making processes in the society.

At the event, Ms. Rosy Senanayake, Advisor to the President attended as Guest of Honor and the panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Sulochana Segera from WIM. Ms. Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson, CEO of Hemas Holdings, Ms. Ashika Gunasena, CEO of Chrysalis and Ms. Azusa Kubota, Resident Representative of UNDP Sri Lanka exchanged their views along with Ms. Michiko Achilles.

The event not only helped us to broaden our knowledge, but also established a network among gender specialists and women-related entrepreneurs and explored possibilities of future cooperation between Sri Lanka and Japan for enhanced women’s empowerment.

Here is the speech by Ambassador Mizukoshi:
Good morning. Ayubowan, Wanakkam, おはようございます. Today, I am honored to host a seminar on the empowerment of women for Sri Lanka and Japan in collaboration with Women in Management here in Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute. This is the first time our embassy is holding a seminar on women’s empowerment and I am excited to have such large number of participants today. First and foremost, I would like to thank Ms. Rosy Senanayake, former Mayor of Colombo for her participation, and I extend a warm welcome to Ms. Michiko Achilles, today’s keynote speaker for her first visit to Sri Lanka. Ms. Achilles, Executive of Sumitomo-Mitsui Trust Bank, represented Japan as the private sector representative of the G20 EMPOWER Alliance, advocating for women's empowerment and increased economic representation at the G20 Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality Ministerial Meeting held in India last week.
First of all, I must start from admitting that unlike fields like science and technology or infrastructure development, Japan is not an advanced country concerning women's inclusion and participation. In fact, Japan is in the 125th place out of 146 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index rankings behind Sri Lanka which is in 115th place. Unfortunately, Japanese society has not fully harnessed the power of women yet and we find ourselves unable to claim that Japan as a country is a role model for developing countries in this field. Although the situation in Japan is gradually improving compared to the past, the process is lacking swiftness. It is also true with the Japanese foreign ministry in which I have been working nearly forty years. When I entered the ministry there was only one lady in my batch. Now roughly half of the new recruits are ladies which is a big change, but at the level of Ambassadors, I counted yesterday, there are only five Japanese female Ambassadors around the globe. This means that the gender equality at the level of entry into the professional society has very much improved, but there are still a lot of obstacles in rising up to the leadership level. This is true in the Japanese business society as well. We will hear from Ms. Michiko on the situation, however, the fact that Japan has its own problem in women’s participation should not be a reason for not cooperating with other countries especially with developing countries.

I think cooperating and interacting partners overseas, is an opportunity to reflect on our society. Therefore, cooperation with overseas partner is a chance for Japan to change. The turning point for Japan in our international cooperation on women’s participation was when we started organizing the World Assembly for Women (WAW!) in 2014 in Tokyo, an initiative of the late Prime Minister Abe. This conference brought together top female leaders from various fields worldwide to discuss the gender-related challenges, enhancing momentum for gender equality throughout the international society. Today, we have the esteemed presence of former Mayor of Colombo her worship Rosy Senanayake, who has participated, representing Sri Lanka in this conference in 2015 and made great contribution to the conference. I hope she could share some of her experience there.
Now, let me take this opportunity to briefly explain the very special cooperative relationship between Japan and Sri Lanka concerning women's empowerment. In the year 2018, Japan became a partner country for Sri Lanka under the "G7 Partnership on Women, Peace, and Security" initiative at the G7 Foreign Ministers' Meeting. Since then, Japan has been engaged in discussions with the Sri Lankan government, leading to two main requests for support. The first one was to support the empowerment of women-headed households, especially the widows who were severely affected by the 26-year long conflict in Sri Lanka. Responding to Sri Lanka’s request, over the years, Japan has collaborated with UN agencies such as UNDP, UN Women, UNFPA, and IOM/ILO, as well as government agencies, to strengthen initiatives for women's protection and economic participation. These efforts cover various areas and include support for entrepreneurship, vocational training, education for reproductive health, maternity health, and establishing shelters for victims of gender-based violence. The second request for support was the assistance in formulating Sri Lanka's National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS). With the cooperation of UN Women, Japan has shared our experience to Sri Lanka and supported drafting the plan and setting Sri Lanka’s policy on empowerment of women. This plan finally obtained Sri Lanka’s cabinet approval in February of this year, and we are hoping to see its full implementation by relevant agencies of the Government of Sri Lanka thereby improving the participation and empowerment of Women in Sri Lanka.
Before concluding, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Dr. Sulochana Segara of Women in Manegement, in assisting me and our embassy in organizing this seminar and has undertaken to play the role of moderator today. From the panelists Ms. Kasturi Wilson, CEO of Hemas, Ms. Azusa Kubota, Resident Representative of UNDP, Ms. Ashika Gunasena, CEO of Chrysalis, who all came to my residence for the preparation of the seminar, I am looking forward to learn their profound insights to guide us, and for their interactions. Also, my warmest wishes extend to each and every participants attending today, for your interest in this important topic.
Thank you.