Women cycling
© UN Habitat

In 2021, the UN in Sri Lanka strengthened collective engagement and advocacy on gender—externally and internally. This effort was largely led by the Gender Theme Group (GTG) of the UN in Sri Lanka, based on recommendations in the first comprehensive assessment of the UN’s system-wide gender equality and women’s empowerment action plan, known as UNCT-SWAP Gender Equality Scorecard in 2020. A key result was establishing the position of a Gender Coordination Officer (GCO) for the UN Country Team. Under the support of UN Women in 2021, this function was continued into 2022, institutionalising the work and strengthening the collective engagement on gender across Agencies, Funds and Programmes.

A comprehensive mapping of UN Sri Lanka’s full range of gender mainstreamed and gender responsive work was done by GTG at the beginning of the year, providing important analysis for developing the upcoming UN Cooperation Framework 2023-2027.

This analysis showed that UN entities best complement GTG’s work in Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), Women's Economic Empowerment, Peacebuilding and Social Cohesion, and strengthening of state institutions across sectors, while areas such as women in leadership, migration, and health could benefit from greater collaboration.

The prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA) theme was also temporarily brought under the oversight of the GTG, which led on updating the annual UN Sri Lanka PSEA Action Plan. Work involved localising information, materials, and consultations across entities to assess the context and status of PSEA, with recommendations to strengthen collective action and streamline communication.

The GTG also led in sensitising UN staff around gender through advocacy and knowledge sharing, including webinars on gender-based violence and sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression. The GTG also advocated for gender responsive operations and strengthened its partnership with the UN Operations Management Team, an ongoing activity through 2022. The follow up 2021 Scorecard Assessment showed that the UN in Sri Lanka made significant progress on the previous comprehensive assessment recommendations on all reassessed indicators, guiding the Group’s work in 2021 and strengthening inter-agency collaboration around gender.

Outward-facing, the Gender group coordinated joint advocacy by UN Agencies around International Women’s Day 2021 through a joint statement calling for more women in leadership and celebrating groundbreaking appointments and contributions of women in law enforcement, science, and business, among others. A related joint webinar on “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World” was organised by the UN and the Ministry of Women and Child Development.

In collaboration with the Ministry, UNDP conducted a rapid assessment on enhancing services of helplines to survivors of SGBV during COVID-19 lockdowns.

The UN, led by UNFPA and UN Women, also collaborated with the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Parliament of Sri Lanka to develop the National Policies and National Action Plans on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, while UNESCO led in sensitising media partners on the safety of women journalists, with related guidelines being disseminated among stakeholders.