By Ratna Bala –
“I do not wish them (women) to have power over men; but over themselves” – Mary Wollstonecraft –(1759-1797)
First woman to have political power in the civilised world was Pharaoh Hatshepsut in Egypt around 1500 BCE. Her strong believe that she being a women still can be Pharaoh and effectively rule Egypt was unprecedented when this position of Pharaoh was strictly restricted to men. Many centuries later in the democratic world first women to have political power was Srimavo Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka. She transformed herself from being a ‘weeping widow’ to a strong leader of Sri Lanka. She was instrumental in forming ministry of children and women affairs. She played a leading role in the world as head of Non Aligned Movement. Since then no significant progress has been made to include more women in political power for them to constructively contribute in the future of Sri Lanka and promote gender equality.
In United Kingdom when women was treated as third class citizens many courageous women marched and fought courageously. Their struggle which started in 1872 as national movement with many sacrifices won voting rights for women in 1928.This was celebrated as major achievement for women with political participation equal to men. Unfortunately due to social and cultural reasons their rights to vote and political participation could not progress any further to achieve equal political representation in parliament. Only in the last decade this transformation is taking place very slowly and reluctantly in many countries.
All over the world there are wider struggles against all forms of discrimination and demand for social justice, equality. Many different polarised views and associated emotional attachment can be found on all forms of discriminations. But considerable amount of general consensus and significant positive atmosphere prevail to accommodate gender equality. Many countries are adopting affirmative programs to promote women to have political power in government and in executive roles in institutions. Recently in United Kingdom major study was conducted on gender equality in 350 big institutions. Their Hampton-Alexander report made strong recommendations to bridge the gap soon to improve gender balance
Countries which have gone through civil war and devastation have acknowledged neglect of women and decided to share power by including more women in parliament. Ruwanda which have seen the worst brutal civil war and have made major leap in gender equality and now have 61% female members in the parliament. World average for women parliamentarians is 24.3%. In Sri Lanka only 6% parliamentarians are women. Sri Lanka need a progressive fast tract programme to have more women in her parliament.
Sri Lanka has a greater obligation to women to give them equal political representation. Our mothers, wives, daughters and sisters pay a enormous contribution to our country’s economy. Foreign exchange income is earned mainly by women working in Middle East, women in textile industry and tea plantation. Important social services such as health care and education now rest mainly on women’s shoulders. All working women are making significant contribution to our government income tax revenue. But women do not have any substantial power in the government to make decisions on how that money is spent or promote proposals to alleviate problems faced by women and benefit their well being.
Srimavo Bandaranaike and few other women were able gain political power only when they became a widow of a male politician. Some may think this as magnanimity towards women. On the contrary, this actually shows how low we have fallen into with poverty of our appreciation of women and ignorance or indifference to injustice fallen upon more than half of our population. It is time to fix this fault line in the system. Then only we can stand tall and hold our head high in front of our mothers, wives, daughters and sisters. In the coming election few parliamentarians could step aside and let their wife or daughter to stand in their place to show their magnanimity and compassion towards women.
What is the point of giving mother Sri Lanka a Democratic Socialist Republic title when our deeds let her down? In 21st century, if we are not capable of sharing political power equally with our mothers, wives, daughters and sisters, then we may not be able to do anything else good other than dwelling in deception and corruption. It is time to take resolute resolve to change course and make next parliament election as an opportunity give justice to our mothers, wives, daughters and sisters.
It is time for Sri Lanka to come out of darkness to see the world in new light. It is time to give women their due share of the political power. Remedy for this injustice and facilitate utilisation of their enormous potential for the prosperity of our beautiful country. Many platforms in the world including UN are encouraging and promoting gender equality as mandatory prerequisite for sustainable development.
Mother Sri Lanka can no longer afford or tolerate our blindness to equality in representation, and equal contribution by women in decision making in governance of her affairs. Without sharing political power equally with half of our population legitimacy of the government and morality of people holding on to power will remain very much below the standards expected from our religious believes too.
Rise women rise! Demand your rightful place to share political power. Have your say in how is your taxed money is spent and how your needs are prioritised in government policies. In the past march women march campaigns won equal voting rights for participation in politics. Now you need a collective campaign by organised civil groups and influential individuals to gain equal representation in political power.
This is my humble appeal to influential people and leaders in our country. Please promote sharing political power equally to respect dignity of women. All religious leaders! Please give triple gem blessings for gender equality and equal power sharing for women. Together we can make a big difference for the happiness of our people and mother Sri Lanka.
Happy international women’s day!