19 September, 2020

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Female Representation In Parliament: The Wait For A Gender Balance

By Harini Fernando

Harini Fernando

Women constitute over 50% of the total population in Sri Lanka. However, when it comes to political representation, the number of female politicians in the country remains alarmingly low. Although we boast about electing the world’s first female Prime Minister who served three terms in that capacity and subsequently had a female President who served for two consecutive terms, we have not seen any notable progress in women’s representation in politics. 

When taking into consideration women’s representation in the previous parliament, only 5% of the 225 MPs were women, i.e. only thirteen of the 225 were females. A recent research carried out by Verite Research affiliated Manthri.lk revealed that based on these data, Sri Lanka ranked 182 out of 193 countries with regard to female representation in parliament. This research also indicated that Sri Lanka ranked one before the last in the South Asian region with Maldives taking up the 183rd position. Countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan, which constitute of more conservative societies with lower literacy rates ranked higher with regard to female representation in parliament. 

When looking at the total number of nominations that were received from all leading political parties for the General Election 2020, the number of nominations of female candidates does not constitute even 10% of the nominees from each party except for the Tamil National Alliance which has exactly 10% of female candidates. The last Local Government Election introduced the 25% mandatory quota for nominations where we saw all political parties at least attempting to get more female candidates to contest at the election. However, the total number of nominations from female candidates amounted to only 10%. Of course, it was not an overnight success. Nevertheless, these are small steps that may eventually lead to a substantial change in the political system in the country. We all know that the lack of female candidates in nominations is reflective of the deep-rooted patriarchal mindset and the lack of institutional reforms to encourage more women to engage in politics. Be it the United National Party (UNP), Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) or Janatha Vimukthi Permuna (JVP), there is minimum encouragement for women to participate in politics. The highest number of female candidates at the 2020 General Election is 17 which is evidence enough to highlight the fact that none of the major political parties have at least one female candidate to represent one district. Therefore, even if someone wanted to vote for a woman, the choice is incredibly limited. 

Out of the 29 MPs that entered the eighth parliament through the National List, only two MPs were women: one from the UNP and the other from Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi. This further demonstrates the deep-seated patriarchal norms that are prevalent in all political parties. The National List is something that could be easily utilized to create more gender balance in the parliament. However, every time we witness it being used as a back door for defeated politicians to enter into the parliament. 

More often than not, the female politicians who contest and eventually become MPs are people who come from political backgrounds. Those who are outside of this political sphere are quite reluctant to engage in politics and are even discouraged by people around them to not engage in politics. Therefore, there is a long way to go in empowering women to engage in addressing issues that concern them as a community that constitutes half of the country’s population. We cannot give the sole authority to men to make decisions especially on issues related to women.

Regardless of religion or ethnicity, be it issues related to sexual and reproductive health of women, sexual harassment or amendments to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, a bunch of men (including priests), will not be able to understand the issues from a woman’s perspective. Women need to have a say in the issues that are pertinent to their lives. Moreover, today, more and more women are acquiring quality education. Oftimes, women are more qualified than their male counterparts, but the prevalent patriarchal norms and institutional structures hinder them from achieving their fullest potential. This is why institutional reforms become key in electing more women to the parliament until we reach a gender-balanced parliament.

Of course, just like the male candidates, there might be female candidates who might not deserve your vote. This further narrows down the choices one might have when voting for women. However, given that each voter has the choice of casting 3 votes, it is extremely important that out of the three votes, you cast at least one of them for a well-deserving female candidate because the change has to start somewhere. 

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Latest comments

  • 1
    1

    In North East the usual complain of candidates is excessive Army activities intended to intimidate candidates, especially National party Female candidates. Last time TNA put three candidates and all lost. So TNA made one lost as national MP. This time lost TNA female candidates cannot be selected in National list. Paramilitary parties have more selection for females candidates as Army’s interference is acute there. UNP’s Vijeyakala Maheswaran won last time. It is not expected she returning this time. Unless Ananthi Sasithran wins, there may be no females MP this time in Tamil national parties.

  • 2
    2

    Women don’t vote for women.

    Soma

    • 2
      0

      Yes, Soma,
      .
      There I’m in total agreement with you.

  • 2
    0

    UNP is losing because of Vijeyakala Maheswaran. The UNP failed to realize that Tamils hate Vijeyakala. Even the Sinhalese will not support if Vijeyakala is in the UNP. It is interesting to watch the contest between Anananthi Sasitharan and the wife of late Raviraj. No wonder Vijeyakala may lose the deposit.

    • 1
      0

      Yes I too read, somebody thinking Sasikala Raviraj may come. But they both are widows by Rapist Army murderers killing their husbands knowing whom they are.

      • 1
        0

        Vijeyakala too widowed by the murders of Rapist Army and its paramilitary wings.

  • 9
    0

    Women do not enter politics in Sri Lanka for several reasons. One is that they are generally disillusioned by the depravity of dirty politics, the alcoholic rampages, election violence, domestic violence and the public image portrayed by entering politics. The other is that they don’t have a record of murder, rape, drug trafficking, ethanol smuggling, and other mega illicit money streams or projection of power that nomination panels consider as qualification for granting a nomination.

    • 3
      0

      A perfect summary Lasantha

    • 0
      0

      Yes,
      .
      I think that I’d better forget my earlier pontfications about voting for Sajith’s Telephone and vote for the Compass, aka “Clock” of the JVP. There’s been no sign during the last two decades that they can be bought over by the Rajapaksas and their like.
      .
      If you have already voted for the Telephone, don’t let that trouble you too much, you probably did what most people of our English-speaking backgrounds did. Some of them will certainly win in all Districts (except perhaps the North). Never mind if they were not the guys who got your Preferences. Start drilling it into them from this point on that ours were anti-Rajapaksa votes and on no account are they cross-over to the Rajapaksas.
      .
      I listened to many Youtubes by Sepali Amerasinghe. For four months. Interesting arguments which I thought an important way of getting at those who were not able to access what we were writing in Sinhalese. I even visited his home in Dehiwela. So he won over many opposed to the Rajapaksas. Now he’s started some nonsense about writing “NOTA” on ballot papers.
      .
      Only anti-Rajapaksa people have been following him recently. For the past week he’s been targeting the gullible with “advice” to spoil votes by writing NOTA.

    • 1
      0

      Sorry, I meant to say that Sepali Amarasinhe’s AGENDUM is clear. Help the Rajapaksas by getting the naive, the lazy and the ignorant to spoil their votes. Not many of us will fall for it.
      .
      If you are undecided but anti-Rajapaksa, safest to vote for the JVP-led group; symbol “compass” but referred to by many as ” clock”.
      .
      Remember our votes count little. This election will be decided by people who are monolingual- speaking only Sinhalese. Not their fault. There never was a programme to effectively teach English to all Sri Lankans.
      .
      Idiots it is who blame CWW Kannangara. He wanted to extend English education to all. He faced sabotage from elite groups like us.
      .
      Why “us”. Ashamed I confess it. I was a village English teacher, but my education was throughout at S. Thomas’s. Warden, Reverend R.S de Saram was against free education. Now we pay the price.
      .
      The wheel has come full circle. I’m no Marxist. Many Marxist groups are in the fray. Most may be sincere, but only the JVP stands a chance of winning seats.
      .
      There’s been no bombmaking by them for 25 years now. They’ve been performing well in Parliament.
      .
      Vote for them. One more plea. Give at least one Preference to a woman.

  • 1
    1

    Hi

    Yes is the future….we had the first female PM in the world and was a great one too…….I even had the honour to stand next to my Father when my Father opened the car door of our Late Hon PM’s upon arrival for the Jaffna University Opening ceremony in 70’s…I was even introduced to her by my Father she smiled and patted me too..was an honour indeed.

    Yes yes yes but..are the individual parties doing enough to encourage woman participation/grooming technocrats of the future (most of the men are not even the Technocrats they need to be to talk about politics)?? A Motherly touch is missing in our Nation lost so many of her children to violence..yes we need urgently…..and is the next stage after laying a great foundation with a 2/3 majority for a stable country will create a better environment too.

  • 4
    2

    Man or woman, does it make a difference ? They all come from the same society , gene pool, culture-the results will be the same.

  • 4
    1

    With due respect, I disrespectfully ask….what has any woman politicians in Sri Lanka achieved politically other than pathetic display of ignorance, emotion and apathy over diligence, confidence and good governance.

  • 1
    1

    We can understand the concerns raised by the writer on female representation. Female politicians should come forward to get nominated on high merits. But need of the hour is not the gender imbalance but illiterate politicians with background of criminal records. And the other serious concern is that quite a number of parliamentarians are not passed their GCE Ordinary Level. This is a serious lapse that the legislators should apply restrictions. Just imagine if such parliamentarians are given nominations by so called national political parties to represent the people. What is the credibility of those leaders of the national parties to nominate such unqualified politicians with proven criminal links.

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