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Sunday, 14 June 2015





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Finally, more political clout for women

More than half of the Sri Lankan population are women. Despite advanced human development indicators for Sri Lankan women, representation of them in political institutions is still minimal. Be it in the Parliament, Provincial Council or the other Local Government institutions, women have a very limited chance in being elected as people’s political representatives.

State Minister for Child Development Rosy Senanayake

Asoka Abeygunawardana

Forced, bargained for nearly 30 years the dream of politically active women for a fair share is going to become a reality along with the much debated facts of the 20th Amendment to the Sri Lanka constitution.

We are hoping that including women’s quota will bring positivity to the Sri Lankan political arena, said State Minister for Child Development Rosy Senanayake.

Recommendations made by the United National Party women parliamentarians, in which Minister Senanayake was taking a lead, will be considered when establishing the 20th Amendment to the constitution. “We recommended 50% women representation in the national list and the district list. And a minimum of one woman for a district which will eventually ensure that there will be at least 22 women representation in the Parliament,” she said, while explaining the current positive approach happening in the country’s legislature which agrees to increase women representation in politics.


What are the arguments coming opposing this idea? The immediate thought the male dominated decision making committees raise is ‘where are the women?’ according to the senior parliamentarian.

“When I first presented my proposals on this to the Parliamentary Committee their first question was where we would find those women,” said Minister Senanayake. There are enough and more women, who are already active in the political fields who would rise when the chance is given in the political field, she stressed. “I can directly recommend at least a minimum of 50 who are fit for the job,” she added.

“We as women parliamentarians have been pushing this need to have more women at decision-making level. And we had no other choice but to go for affirmative action,” Senanayake said. Women fit for politics come from a cross-section of the society be they academics, intellectuals, politicians or professionals. Be it at the national or the grassroots levels women are in the forefront in active politics. Yet, at the decision making level hardly a fraction is represented, she explained.

The highlighting fact is that the capacity of women to serve the nation has not been recognised. It is just a matter of recognising and giving the opportunity and Minister Senanayake assured that a battalion of women from the national and grassroots level will be lined up to contest.

Opening up the platform with an equal chance, capable professional women with a vision, value and an education will lead the way for good governance. “They only need to be given a fair chance,” added Minister Senanayake.The system should be capable of supporting suitable women to enter politics who could add value to the field but usually not financially strong.

An expert in the field of electoral reforms Asoka Abeygunawardana supporting this idea said that the much appropriate method they propose is a combination of proportionate and the electoral representing systems. “The proportionate system will give a positive support to women’s representation. Yet, the preferential selection need to be moved and replaced by the electoral system so that women who will be members of Parliament would be the ones who were really elected by the people,” Abeygunawardana explained.

We have suffered enough with the Preferential voting system and from that we, as citizens, will not be able to select better representation in to the Parliament,” he added.

A Cabinet paper was approved to draft amendments to the Provincial Councils Elections Act No. 02 of 1988 by adding provisions to ensure that more than 30% of the total candidates included in nomination papers submitted by political parties or groups should consist of women candidates.

The Cabinet of Ministers approved the paper on May 20, presented by the Minister of Provincial Councils and Regional Development Janaka Bandara Tennakoon.

In addition, soon after the new Government coming into power, President Maithripala Sirisena pointed out this concern in the 100 days Program, proposing that legislation would be introduced to ensure at least 25% women’s representation in Provincial Councils and Local Government.

Considering the current status of women in any profession in the public and the private sectors, is such that we need to have greater recognition, said Kumudini Samuel, program and research associate of the Women and Media Collective, one of the notable organisations who have stood up to raise women participation in politics for over two decades.

As citizens, women concerned with a democratic change, must urge all political parties in Sri Lanka to take necessary steps to increase the number of women in Parliament and it is the sign of good democratic governance,” explained Samuel.

And most importantly, political parties must establish democracy within their own political parties, said Samuel, highlighting that all citizens should be given equal access to political representation, regardless of gender, class, caste, ethnicity.

Despite the normal conception that there are less women coming up to contest for elections from the North, there is nearly a 30% women representation at the Provincial Council level said Sarojini Kanendran Chairperson of ‘Viluthu’ - a grassroots level organisation working in the North and the East.

“The politicians cannot state that there are no women to come into politics from the North and the East, looking at these numbers,” she added.

Pointing out that it is high time women given the due chance to be at the decision making level rather being confined and labelled as hard workers Kanendran said that women active in politics in the North and the East are ‘awaiting to see this change in the election reforms.’

“The real situation in the North is that if the election reforms include the woman’s quota, there will be a huge uproar in the society” added Sarojini.

The Women and Media Collective, keeping the demands for women representation alive for over two decades, jointly with academics, activists and the average woman from the village, stressed that society should not look at this demand as a subject ‘cooked up’ by feminists. “If women represent 52% of the Sri Lankan population and majority of the labour force, what is the democracy we talk about if their representation at the country’s legislature is not strong enough to make a voice,” they emphasised.

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