25 May, 2024


The 25 Percent Quota & Women In Sri Lankan Politics

By Hansani Bandara –

Hansani Bandara

The Ceylonese State Council Election of 1931 allowed all Sri Lankan citizens to participate in the democratic process through ‘universal suffrage’. Since then, Sri Lankan women has had the constitutional freedom and right to vote and participate in political activities and the country even went on to elect the world’s first female Prime Minister.

Despite the statutory freedom, women’s participation in Sri Lankan politics has been one of the lowest in South Asia. In fact, only four percent of the seats in provincial councils and 1.9 percent in local governments have been held by women up until 2012; and Sri Lanka was ranked 180th out of 190 countries in the IPU ranking of female representation in parliament as of June 2017.

Passing the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Act No. 1 of 2016 sought to address this by introducing a mandatory quota of 25 percent for women through a one-third increase in the total number of seats at the local government level, i.e. Pradeshiya Sabas, Urban Councils and Municipal Councils. This measure was believed to be one that was progressive in terms of promoting gender equality.

The Local Government Elections which were held on the 10th of February also marked the inaugural implementation of the statutes that were introduced by through the above mentioned act. In theory, it meant that 25 percent out of the elected candidates had to be women and that these candidates would be guaranteed of seats in local governments.

However, there had been numerous hurdles along to the road, with uncertainty looming over fulfilling the mandatory 25 percent quota for women councilors. Prior to the elections, incidents were reported from around the country where women candidates were marginalized.

The Programmes and Research Technical Advisor of the Women and Media Collective Kumudini Samuel, at a pre-election press briefing, has reportedly said that, “even though 60 percent of the seats under the first-past-the-post system are contested through a ward, only 10 percent of these seats are open to women. Here too, women have to depend on men to put them on the ward list. Moreover, in many districts competent women were being overlooked when giving nominations, allowing the wives and relatives of politicians to contest. Incidents were reported in the Northern and Eastern Provinces where female candidates and their families were openly threatened by their male counterparts and religious leaders.

Following the elections, the Elections Commission had to hold back-to-back meetings with leaders of political parties to iron out the practical difficulties of this requirement, as it was said that at least 10 councils out of 340 would have to run without the 25 percent minimum representation of female councilors when constituted. The Election Commission stated that there were no legal means to appoint female members to these councils as the political parties had either not won more than 20 percent of votes each and were not obligated to appoint female members, or had no more female members to appoint.

Despite statements from many women’s rights activist groups and female members of local governments, to not default on implementing the law, the authorities faced serious barriers when it was time for the theories to be put into practice.

Women constitute 52 percent of Sri Lanka’s population and 56 percent of the registered voters are female. Against this backdrop, it is quite ironic that the country has failed to engage more women in politics. It is uncertain as to what exactly causes majority of women to stay as far away as possible from actively taking part in politics – is it the misogynic instincts of people towards women in politics or is it our patriarchal culture that confines women to a certain frame? Whatever it may be, it is time to change the status quo.

*Hansani Bandara is a freelance journalist and an alumna of the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies. Her topics of interest include women representation in politics, history and international relations.

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  • 4

    Patriarchal culture? Are you kidding me! Modern Patriarchy is a western thing. Before colonialism, from Africa to Sri Lanka to Australasia to the Americas, women had very strong roles. Kings had queens and sometimes the Queens and the mother of the King had more power via influence. Have you sinhalese ever heard of “Mathru Moolika Samajaya”?. It means Matriarchy! Before colonialism women wore what they wanted and could alone and safely go out to gather firewood or water. Some women trained to be warriors incase the men were defeated in battle, the women were the last line of defence for the children. In our ancient tradition, the saying is “A woman can walk tolpless at night wearing jewelry (like the Sigiriya fescos) in her village and no man would dare say a word let alone try anything sexual. I challange to you to do that today! Boys until puberty were brought up among communities of women. They learn to respect and obey women. Women were the protected ones not the men. Men are after-all disposable. We accept that the women and children need to survive since they are the future. It is not just about women. When comes to homophobia, this also a colonial side effect. Before colonialism there was plenty men doing men.

    • 4

      Educational comment Thanos! Hope your sources are reliable. If so, there is every reason to acknowledge the ancient, yet trail-blazingly progressive aspects of traditional Sri Lankan culture. No doubt Western colonization of SL over 500 years has had its’ negative effects. PATRIARCHY almost certainly is one of them. Since Western value system is based on the BIBLE, a highly-undocumented document, which blatantly promotes patriarchy. So, is the ABOMINABLE, modern Sinhala custom of bed-sheet testing of brides for VIRGINITY. While sexually-active men before marriage, go scot-free. Very likely adopted from PURITANICAL VICTORIAN VALUES. There had never been such a tradition in ancient SL.
      TRAGIC IRONY, however, is most Western societies have moved on. By DISMANTLING large chunks of patriarchy, by enforcing laws when required. While STUPID SRI LANKANS continue to worship PURITANICAL VICTORIAN VALUES. Millions of women supporting a gender-based blanket ban on alcohol on themselves recently is a case in point. Not ever Sri Lankan women have understood their own plight yet. Increasing discrimination, isolation and segregation of Sri Lanka’s daughters born within Islam, plus creeping ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISM, RELIGIOUS LUNACY & WAHABISM etc are worsening this terrible problem.

      • 1

        Ben Hurlins: Your way arguing has some problems. West cme and made manythings issues. but those were not issues earlier. there was no need to ban alcohol. but, ISlam, Wahabism and MMDA are problems.

    • 3

      Hansani Bandara,

      RE: The 25 Percent Quota & Women In Sri Lankan Politics

      Women, 52% of the voters, but 4% of the representatives.

      Why did the women vote for the men?Ask your mother, aunts and neighbors.

      If there are women candidates, will they vote for the women?

      Will they require additional qualification such as, Para-Sinhala woman, Para-Sinhala “Buddhist” woman, Para-Sinhala “Christian” woman, Para-Tamil woman, Para-Tamil ‘Christian” woman, Para-Tamil “Hindu” woman, Para-Muslim woman etc?

      There should be additional metrics related to qualification and capabilities of the woman. After all, Chandrika Kumaratinga was qualified, whirle Srima Bandaranaika was not.

  • 1

    In Sri Lanka, anything and everything has and have to be put into “practice” to KNOW the results. Nothing becomes a subject of careful study and evaluation. One among such a subject and a Legislation is this very subject of “25% Quota Women Representation” in the Local Administrative set up. Isn’t it HILARIOUS to hear one Minister, Mr Vajira Abeywardane by name, recently, in public , declaring this “SYSTEM” is a “KODIVINAYA” (a CURSE) for Sri Lanka? Wasn’t he among a large MAJORITY, including JVP and TNA who voted in favor and put this Legislation to our books of Statutes? For a moment, I am not relying on these vagabonds in Parliament in favour of my opinion to say that this “25% Quota of Women” is a DISASTER, economically, politically and socially. It would be too long to discuss all those impacts in a comment; but just give your attention to the fact of the INCREASE (that which all the 225 “Pandithayas” in Parliament overlooked) in the number of representatives to 8000 to be maintained in these Councils. It is “estimated” that at least a minimum of Rs. 50,000.00 (by way of salaries, & other perks) is needed per person, per month. Who bears all that expenditure and from where all those funds could be found? Can a country like Sri Lanka bear that burden at this juncture? Next, see the DRAMA enacted by the Election Commission in “Finding” that “25% Quota”from the “LISTS” of Political Parties who have acted most irresponsibly in submitting nominations? Did any of those among 225 in the Legislature address their minds to many of such problems in voting this Legislation? I do not intend to go further,( being mindful of restriction in comment policy) but invite you, the readers to put on your thinking cap and assess this whole “Unhealthy” issue of “25% Quota of Women Representation”.

  • 0

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  • 1

    Women in politics will not mean much if in other day to day activities they are treated ‘seconds’.
    Take the clergy.
    Hindus have shut women from priesthood. They stipulate men from a certain caste.
    Christians have just allowed women into priesthood but they have lots of ground to cover.
    Will there ever be a woman Mahanayake? Or even a Viharadithipathi?
    Islam actually forbids women in religious affairs.
    So Hansani Bandara, Women in politics is necessary but not sufficient.

  • 2

    Allocating a percentage for women itself is a discrimination. It indirectly expresses an idea that women are weaker than men.

    Rights shouldn’t be given forcefully but must be assured in constitution that men = women.

    What should be done is making a thorough study to find out the reasons for women’s lack of participation in politics.

    What are the discouraging factors or obstacles for women?

    Can’t women themselves form a caretaking body to look into the matters of children & husbands of women in politics?

    Is marriage an obstacle for women to enjoy required freedom?

    In that case what are the obstacles for them to become a mother of a single parent family that’ll certainly helpful to avoid both husband & religion?
    (It’s weak husbands who use religion to control wives)

    • 0

      REvolitionist: IT is prevalent among muslim women and upto a certain extent with Tamil women from certain areas.

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