By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai
“We will destroy the idiocy
Of denigrating womanhood!” ~ Mahakavi Subramaniya Bharathiyaar, (11 December 1882 ~11 September 1921), (Tamil Poet, Reformer and Freedom Fighter who supported the women and their rights)
“Vote for a Woman”, a national campaign to get more women in politics, recently brought Women candidates of UPFA,UNP,TNA and Independent group gathered under one roof:
Sri Lanka’s current population is 21.3 million. The total population consists of 52% of women. Women’s representation in elected political bodies in Sri Lanka is abysmally low. It is 5.8% in parliament, 4.1% in provincial Councils, and only 1.8% in Local Government. It is the lowest in South Asia. Sri Lanka is the only country in the region without a quota for women in Local Councils according to Women and Media Collective.
Nominations for women by the major political parties have remained almost stagnant in the last 50 years. Many women leaders at the community level are marginalized and overlooked, when it comes to nominations for elections.
Women’s organizations have used many strategies to increase representation in the last 10 to 15 years including through supporting independent women’s lists and advocacy for a legal quota for women.
“Major political parties must be made accountable to give more nominations to women, while at the same time public awareness has to be raised about the problem of under representation of women at local level. United National Party (UNP) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) were the most responsive while the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress said that it was against the religion to have women in politics. But, we have got more than 6,000 signatures in a petition from the public from the Trincomalee District, supporting women entering into politics, and we even got a letter from the Islamic cleric attesting that women can enter politics to prove a point to the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress.
It is noted that the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has put forward a significant number of women. It is a healthy move. During the last local elections 3% ~ 4% of women were nominated, and this year the percentage has increased to 12%, which is quite impressive, but there is a lot more work to be done.
Sri Lanka has very commendable human development indicators for women, which include high literacy rates and exceptional educational achievements. However, despite almost 70 years of female franchise and the election of the world’s first woman Prime Minister, the country lags far behind most of the developing world with regard to women’s representation in political institutions at local, provincial and national level. All of these women faced a lot of hardships in the nomination race and a large number of them were rejected, Therefore, we ask the women population of the country to cast at least one of their preferences for a woman” said Kumudini Samuel, Director of Women and Media Collective.
The political representation of women is strategically intended to: ~~
~ Improve good governance at the local level through the observance of selected Local Government bodies.
~ Promote interaction between local government members and community groups to improve governance at local level.
~ Increase representation of women in political institutions and decision making processes.
Women candidates from Badulla, Galle, Kurunegala, Moneragala and Trincomalee districts were brought under one roof by the Women and Media Collective to share their experience while running the race for nominations to contest in the upcoming local government polls in Sri Lanka.
“I have contested and won with the Tamil National Alliance last time. I have stepped out of my office and been on the street to monitor a concrete road being built. I was the first person to how the community that a woman can be out on the field and do better job. I was refused to be nominated this time due to male chauvinism!” shared Bhavani Krishnamoorthy from Trincomalee district.
The Women and Media Collective in partnership with the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Empowerment as well as six other national and local level women’s groups Sarvodaya Women’s Movement (Galle), Uva Wellassa Farmer Women’s Organisation (Monaragala), Viluthu (Trincomalee), Women’s Development Centre (Badulla), Women’s Resource Centre ( Kurunegala) seeks to increase the percentage of nominations and votes for women in the upcoming Local Government elections.
Women and Media Collective alongwith Women’s Development Centre ~ Badulla, Sarvodaya Women’s Movement ~ Galle, Women’s Resource Centre ~ Kurunegala, Uva Wellassa Farmer Women’s Organisation ~ Monaragala and Vizhuthu ~ Trincomalee prepared a list 0f 181 names of women from 5 districts and the list was given to the political parties.
It is noted that 72 women successfully got their nominations from this list. Approximately 195 local level party leaders from mainstream political parties in all five districts and 48 national level party leaders were met by the WMC to ensure that an equal amount of women are also in the decision making process in the country.
In 2006 local government elections, two women from Galle district, four women from Trincomalee district, two from Kurunegala district, one woman from Monaragala district and five women from Badulla district won the seats.
It remains as a challenge to get more women into politics
Banners for women contesting in the upcoming local government elections
A few women’s organisations have been working since 1990s to get more women in politics
Women interested in active politics share their experience and views
Women’s organizations have been demanding for 30% quota for women at least at the local level
The race for women to get into politics is made tougher