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Empowering Young Women

Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has accepted an invitation to join the eminent international Council of Patrons of the Asian University for Women (AUW) in Chittagong, Bangladesh.

 The University, which is the product of east-west foundational partnerships (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Open Society Foundation, IKEA Foundation etc) and regional cooperation, serves extraordinarily talented women from 15 countries across Asia and the Middle East, including Sri Lanka, providing them with a pathway to service-oriented leadership via an internationally recognized liberal arts undergraduate program. Students at the university represent a range of backgrounds, and many are the first in their family to attend university. This is made possible due to the university’s commitment to empower young women with potential, bolstered by the support of strong scholarships where merited.

 Since AUW’s founding in 2008, 53 Sri Lankans have graduated from the university, and 10 currently attend. As of 2016 a Sri Lankan member of the first group of graduates (Class of 2013) from the university has now become the first AUW alumna to complete a Masters in Public Policy at Oxford University. Meanwhile others contribute in roles at leading organizations such as UNDP/UNV, World Vision, Good Neighbors International, American Corner Kandy,Asiri Group, Center for Environmental Justice, and others. Efforts are currently underway to expand Sri Lankan student representation, build national networks of support, and strengthen regional ties amongst Asian and Middle Eastern countries.

 As of February 2017, the university’s Vice-Chancellor is Professor Nirmala Rao (OBE), the former Pro-Director at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), UK. In 2015 the university launched its Pathways for Promise initiative welcoming young women from garment factories and from refugee populations to attend a pre-undergraduate program with hopes of then pursuing a bachelor’s degree at AUW. This is currently done with the support of apparel manufacturers in Bangladesh and the Open Society Foundation. As a member of the AUW Council of Patrons, former President Kumaratunga will be in the company of other members including Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, First Lady of Japan Akie Abe, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova,Her Royal Highness the Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg, former Chief Secretary of Hong Kong Anson Chan, former Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino, and former Danish Environment Minister Lone Dybkjaer.

 As the daughter of the world’s first woman prime minister, and herself the first woman President of Sri Lanka, with decades of experience in challenging barriers facing women, and working to foster an inclusive and pluralistic society in Sri Lanka and beyond, President Kumaratunga’s involvement with the university will enhance regional participation for Sri Lanka’s young women. Former president Kumaratunga takes on this role alongside her ongoing leadership of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, the South Asian Policy and Research Institute, and her role as Co-Chair of the Shared Societies Project for the Club de Madrid (the largest forum for former international heads of state and government that supports strengthening of democratic institutions).

 Sri Lankan alumnae of university come from all across the country (Jaffna, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Matale, Kalutara, Colombo, Galle). Through their sisterhood built at AUW, they work across distinctions of nationality, ethnicity and religion, in strongly synergized partnerships with great value and potential for Sri Lanka on the local front and on the international stage.

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