Women’s experience and knowledge need to be
incorporated in policy making :
The proposal by the Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local Government to
allocate 30 percent of nominations to female candidates to contest in the
upcoming Provincial Council Elections mandatory, has met with mixed reactions by
The dual approach taken by the government regarding women’s political
representation was criticized by national level activists, who highlighted the
need for a strong national policy regarding the issue. While many welcomed the
move, some activists cautioned against abuse of the quota to push forward family
members of male politicians and other close allies.
At present, women account for under six percent of seats in Parliament, a small
fraction of elected representatives in Sri Lanka . Even though women in Sri
Lanka have enjoyed voting rights since 1931, the current percentage of 5.8
percent in Parliament, and two percent in Municipalities and Local Governments,
are amongst the lowest in South Asia, including Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“The current statistics show that the female nomination percentage is in between
6-8 percent in mainstream political parties, therefore a 30 percent quota for
nominations is a positive step,” Kumudini Samuel, Program and Research Associate
of Women and Media Collective said. However, Samuel is critical of the dual
approach taken by the authorities in trying to increase female representation.
The proposed Bill to be presented in Parliament will amend Sec 13 of the
Provincial Councils Elections Act, No. 2 of 1988, to include the number of
female candidates required “notwithstanding any provisions to the contrary in
this Act, not less than thirty per centum of the total number of candidates
whose names appear in each nomination paper… shall consist of female
Earlier this year, the Act on Local Authorities Elections was also amended to
ensure that a 25% quota for women be included in the Local Authorities Elections
Ordinance. However, the quota allocation is not in the nominations list.
According to the regulation passed as an amendment to the Local Authorities
Amendment Act on February 17, this year, there will be two lists for local
government elections. The nominations list will not have a specific quota
allocation for women. Instead the regulation has introduced a new list, similar
to the parliamentary national list, which would nominate female candidates to
fill 25% quota of the seats won by each political party. This method does not
require women to contest, thus limiting their political exposure.
The dual approach employed by the government is receiving criticism from some
activists who claim direct participation as candidates is far better in terms of
empowerment and normalizing females in the political space.
“It would give a better sense of responsibility for the female candidates as
well as the society to choose their representatives well”, said Samuel.
At grass-roots level however, the women’s activists were divided on the approach
taken to improve women’s representation. Some were cautious about the proposed
change to 30% nomination quota. Although some preferred the 25% quota through a
separate list for women politicians, which did not require them to contest, many
welcomed the guaranteed quota in nominations lists.
Ethayaran Sithravel from Women’s Action Network in Trincomalee commended the
action explaining that women in her area had always wanted to take part in
active politics, but were not given nominations. “The chauvinist politicians
didn’t allow women to contest in elections. Now, with the quota, they don’t have
a choice but to give nomination for women”
However, she briefed that political parties could nominate their family members
which would tantamount to nomination of the elite, while the ordinary women are
neglected. “I also fear by nominating inexperienced women, the men could use it
to strengthen their chances of getting elected,” she said.
On the other hand, a social activist in Jaffna, Anushani Alaagarajah is hopeful
that if women get in large numbers to run for election, even though there be
favoritism, it would still give hope and motivation for them to contest next
time. “The 30% nomination quota or the 25% representation list would still not
solve women’s issues, unless political parties corporate genuinely.”
“The government is backtracking on their position,” Shreen Abdul Saroor from
Mannar Women’s Development Federation said. The reserved seats for women at
every level of electoral process was discussed as an affirmative action to bring
parity to decision making and legislature processes and, she conferred that Sri
Lanka is in transformation after the war and women’s experience and their
knowledge need to be incorporated into every policy and law that will promote an
equal and non-discriminatory society.
“We saw the quota, as the current government’s effort to fulfil, as part of its
post war trust building efforts, as opposed to the nomination quota, she said.
While Sri Lankan political parties speak of empowering women in practice most
male politicians are strongly prejudiced against female candidates. The Sri
Lanka National Human Development Report 2014 states that 74% of the politicians
believed that women should be in politics but “it is not the right place” for
The sometimes violent intensely confrontational nature of Sri Lankan political
campaigns is a further bar to women’s participation.
UNP – 30% is not a problem
UNP has a large number of women engaged in various levels of activism affiliated
to the Lak Vanitha Organisation, a branch of the UNP, party general secretary,
Minister Kabir Hashim said they are delighted to engage more women in active
politics. As a party, the UNP is ready to accommodate more women in politics,
which was the main reason for introducing the 30% quota, he added. As part of
the process to involve more women into politics, the political set up needs to
be changed, abandoning the competitive proportionate electoral system which
demands large amounts of money to carry out a vigorous campaign.
Giving out reasons for UNP not giving nominations for women, he said, in
addition to the political structure, political culture played a significantly
negative influence. “As much as any other party, the UNP didn’t have an
obligation to give nomination to women specially, and considering the political
context in Sri Lanka, the popular opinion was that men could carry out harder
campaigns and gain more votes, so the UNP, as other parties, gave in to that
notion,” he explained, and added, when carrying out campaigns, the candidates
have to travel widely, face the opposition fiercely and the whole country
thought that men are better equipped to do that, “even though we all knew it
SLFP General Secretary, Mahinda Amaraweera was not available for comment on
their party position on accommodating a 30% nomination quota for women in the
Provincial Council elections.
JVP – Including women was never a problem
JVP has always encouraged female participation in active politics and are
prepared for the proposed 30% quota in nominations for women, JVP General
Secretary Tilvin Silva said.
However, he added that there are worse problems to be solved in Provincial
Council elections, such as the 5% cut out point of votes, and said, “we are in
the process of discussing with the Elections Commissioner and will call for an
all party discussion soon.”
‘Joint Opposition’ – Women will contest whenever the government holds elections
The UPFA has been advocating a quota for women representatives in politics and
are fully supportive of the initiation, the Leader of the Joint Opposition
Dinesh Gunawardena said.
During the previous regime, he said, several proposals were brought forward to
increase female participation in politics, and the change in the election
system, i.e. the proportionate representation, was an attempt to convert it into
a system that is more feasible for women candidates.
“The Proportionate Representation system compels a candidate to cover a large
geographical area, with higher expenditures and fierce competition, and despite
this, some women still contested and won elections. But the change in the system
would allow more women to contest in the elections,” he said and added that it
is the task of the government to hold the elections without continuing to