Mr. Tissa Karalliyadde has on several occasions made extremely sexist remarks that are humiliating to Sri Lankan women in general, without any sense of responsibility for the cabinet office he holds as Minister of Women’s Affairs and Child Development. He has stated on several public platforms that women should not be appointed to responsible positions of public office because by nature they are unable to get on with each other and constantly fight and slander other women. A few days ago he stated that the idea of gender equality is a meaningless concept advocated only by some women from NGO groups who have no connection with the vast majority of rural women. He added that these NGO women have rejected values of”pathivatha”(fidelity to husband) in their family life. This abusive and insulting remark about an identified group of women working on issues of concern to women, and implying sexual promiscuity, were made in a TV programme (Sirasa Press Release, 15 November 2013) that received wide publicity.
Minister Karalliyadde is clearly unaware that the oath of office he has taken as a cabinet minister requires him to respect and follow the norms and standards set by our Constitution and national laws, and international treaties and policies that bind the Sri Lankan State and government. We wish to remind him that Article 12 of our Constitution incorporates a standard of gender equality and non-discrimination on the ground of a person’s sex. Sri Lanka, recognising its contribution in improving the lives of women by giving equal access to health and education, and desiring further progress, became a State Party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1981. In 1993 it adopted a policy statement known as the Women’s Charter and which reinforces the Convention standards on gender equality between men and women. While the Sri Lankan government has binding obligations to implement the Constitution, National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) and CEDAW, it is also bound to implement the more recent Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These require the government to implement and monitor development goals that will contribute to gender equality. These commitments are also central to the core Commonwealth values that have been incorporated in the Declaration of CHOGM. The President as current Chair of the Commonwealth has a responsibility to ensure that these values on gender equality are upheld by his administration.
Minister Karalliyadde in making these remarks seems also unaware of the gender equality programmes done by his own ministry to strengthen the capacity of the many community based women’s groups. They too have been working together with women’s NGOs across the country to carry forward an agenda of achieving gender equality so as to eliminate discrimination against women.
We have in the past had several women cabinet ministers such as Renuka Herath, the late Srimani Athulatmudali, Amara Piyaseeli Rathnayake, and Sumeda Jayasena who took their role and responsibility as holders of cabinet office seriously. They tried to work towards achieving these standards of gender equality and improve the lives of women and men. Many Sri Lankan men, including professionals and politicians have supported initiatives to achieve gender equality in our society. It is a shocking indication of the breakdown in values of holders of public office, that the first male minister of Women’s Affairs can make public statements which undervalue Sri Lankan women, and abuse and seek to humiliate identified groups of women. The minister’s statements make it abundantly clear that he is unaware of his responsibilities, rejects these values on gender equality in his personal and public life.
We strongly urge the President to call for the immediate resignation of Minister Karalliyadde from the office he holds in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Child Development and appoint a gender sensitive Minister. His gender insensitive statements and behavior indicate that he can no longer be permitted to function as head of a Ministry whose core purpose he undervalues and publicly denounces.