Women: Careers In Local Government

Filed under: Colombo Telegraph,Opinion |

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

When my mother asked me to marry my wife, I had not seen her; not even a photo of hers. She was then B.Sc., M.Sc. I said to myself, “She is obviously serious about things. She will help bring up good children.” We both said yes. We met first on a Sunday and were married by Wednesday. We have both done well. My wife did her doctorate under Nobel Laureate George Olah. But she moderated her career between being a professor, mother of 5, and wife.

My own mother earned her B.Sc. London in double mathematics, and logic and methodology with first class honours through private study. My father married her merely on my grandfather’s letter to him. She too balanced career and home. I tell you: go for happiness and not naked ambition. This applies to men too.

You can be many things if you are properly prepared. A necessity is that you speak comfortably in the English language. Mahinda Deshapriya, the Chairman of the Election Commission, says that in 15 years Sri Lanka will be ruled by the international school crowd. This is already happening. Uduvil is well-positioned as a private school in the non-assisted category, to contribute to those who will rule us soon!

*Speech delivered on 15 Feb. 2017 at the A. Level Union Annual Luncheon at Uduvil Girls’ College; established in 1820 by American missionaries, and the first girls’ boarding school in Asia:

AL Union President, Ms. Arani Balasingam; Madam Principal, Patricia Jebaratnam; Guest of Honour, Ms. Shivani Vasanthasenan; Distinguished Teachers; Honoured Representatives from other schools; and dear Uduvil-Ladies – the leaders of tomorrow.

You will soon go out into the world. For many Jaffna girls, marriage to a professional is the highest aspiration. You are probably brought up on this limited vision instilled by Jaffna society. Indeed, Uduvil was founded to provide educated Christian brides to the men-converts. The school provided the dowry too.

I tell you, being happily well-married is something that all of us should aim for, men and women. However, marriage does not preclude a successful professional life. Our professional life can be balanced with our family life. That balance requires a good partner. I would go so far as to advise, do not fall in love. That is emotion. Marriage is approached with calculation. Once you marry well, love will surely follow.

When my mother asked me to marry my wife, I had not seen her; not even a photo of hers. She was then B.Sc., M.Sc. I said to myself, “She is obviously serious about things. She will help bring up good children.” We both said yes. We met first on a Sunday and were married by Wednesday. We have both done well. My wife did her doctorate under Nobel Laureate George Olah. But she moderated her career between being a professor, mother of 5, and wife.

My own mother earned her B.Sc. London in double mathematics, and logic and methodology with first class honours through private study. My father married her merely on my grandfather’s letter to him. She too balanced career and home. I tell you: go for happiness and not naked ambition. This applies to men too.

You can be many things if you are properly prepared. A necessity is that you speak comfortably in the English language. Mahinda Deshapriya, the Chairman of the Election Commission, says that in 15 years Sri Lanka will be ruled by the international school crowd. This is already happening. Uduvil is well-positioned as a private school in the non-assisted category, to contribute to those who will rule us soon!

My message today is about a new opportunity for women. I am not speaking about women as soldiers or as priests. I believe we are all, both men and women, equal as persons in the sight of God. We are not, however, equal in function; certainly not in weight lifting. We have distinct strengths.

I do not wish to argue the matter of women priests as I am sure that some Christians here are committed feminists. Hindus here, however, are not burdened by political correctness and thankfully I have heard no cry for women Iyers. After such a sumptuous lunch, it is best that I confine myself to that on which we may agree.

There are certain jobs where men are bested by women; and vice versa. You have unique strengths that men lack – better feelings for children and care for the aged, the problems regarding school, the need for clean pipe-borne water, the lot of war widows, garbage collection, etc. These are the concerns of government. Men however focus on politics because it fires up our adrenalin. We want power and are easily bought. Just look at Lankan politicians who make money and are still respected, and at NPC and oil in our wells. Women do make better politicians.

About 52% of us are women. Even more are in our universities. Yet, we have had only 13 MPs, just 5.78%, in our Parliament of 225. The worldwide average is 21.9%. It is now common wisdom that when quotas are used, women get in. Given such opportunity, women prove their mettle.

In Rwanda with under 12 million people, 800,000 were killed in their 1994 genocide. That calamity, that enormity, left behind a population with 70% women. When they imposed a 30% parliamentary quota, 64% women got elected, the highest anywhere. We may be sure that these women are already growing into their shoes like newly freed slaves did in the US.

In Bangladesh, as of 2013, the Prime Minister, the Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition and the Foreign Minister were all women. India has realized massive gains for women through quotas – over one million now in local government.

Sri Lanka is far behind. So in Jan. 2016 we legislated a 25% quota for women in Local Government. This will empower you.

However, women do not readily stand for elections. Is it because you are more worried about the shame of losing? You cannot run effective campaigns? Or have no access to family finances? Or because women will not vote for women? Or is it that political parties know all this and will not nominate losers?

Sri Lanka’s National Human Development Report 2014 gives reasons. First, discrimination. Although 74% believe that women should be in politics, they also believe that politics is “not the right place” for women. Secondly, stereotypes of women. A woman elected to parliament is rarely considered for ministerial portfolios except perhaps women’s and children’s affairs. Thirdly, the media characterize women candidates badly. The EU Election Observation Mission noted the low coverage given to women. Lastly, female candidates are constantly ostracized and humiliated. Social media comments on them are sexist, making degrading comments on their sexuality and personal life.

A good example is Rosy Senanayake, a beauty queen. A cerebral, elected MP, she posed a serious question in Parliament to Rajapakse’s Transport Minister Kumar Welgama. Welgama answered, to paraphrase, “I am so mesmerised by your looks that I cannot answer your questions in parliament. … I am choked by your beauty and will describe my feelings for you outside the chamber.” S. Thomas’ had taught him English without the manners to go with it.

That is the level of our parliament. Men silence women, and then say, “See? They are incapable.” It does not mean that to be taken seriously, women must act masculine or rowdy. You should stand firm in your own way. Your strength is in being who you are – the gentler sex whose sensitivity we badly need in politics.

The obstacles that women aspiring to serve face, are immense. A party official told me that they had to nominate 10 and expected to win 7 seats. Therefore, they picked 7 leaders whom the party felt it had to have in parliament. Now, the danger was that the other three might be popular enough to fare better than these chosen 7. So they nominated people they perceived as sure losers, including a woman of oppressed caste!

However, if you dare to challenge the bastion of high caste men that parliament is, if you can laugh off stereotypes, if you trudge on despite obstacles, there is now hope. That hope is through the 25% quota.

This is how it will work. If there are 400 seats, the party has to nominate a further 100 women. Unlike now, these have to be strong women who can campaign and get votes for the 400. If the party gets 300 elected seats, 25% of that, that is 75, from the top of the list of the 100 women nominees will become representatives. There will be no humiliation, no shame, of losing because no one votes for those on the list of 100. I think that is the genius of the new system. We may have more than 25% elected women representatives since there will be women among the 400 too. You will learn to govern. Just get into the top of the lists of the larger parties; you can be sure of a career in politics.

Good women can make a difference. There are effective training workshops for potential candidates conducted by Washington-based International Federation of Electoral Systems, IFES, in collaboration with our Election Commission. You are taught how to campaign, make speeches, stay on time, look people in the eye, use a mike, appear for TV etc.

Their Jaffna workshop was ably organized by IFES Operations Officer Sarah Bibler, using as resource persons Diana Carlin (Professor of Communications from the US), Shreen Saroor (women’s rights activist, Mannar) and Nalini Ratnaraja (with candidate-experience in the East). The participants were women from the Northern Province nominated by political parties and women’s groups as potentially part of the 25% quota. I am rushing to IFES’s Trinco workshop today. Other districts will follow.

I dare you to dare. Tell good women to ask parties of their choice for nomination. Perhaps your mother, your teacher, or you yourself. Then campaign for that party. And we will have a long overdue revolution in politics. Ladies of Uduvil, this is the time. This is your time.

Please rise and raise your glasses in toast to the future of all of you, for happy families with unbounded professional opportunities. To the Uduvil AL Union!

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21 Responses to Women: Careers In Local Government

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    Hoole, What was your father – why not divulge that too. Two of our presidents were women – mother and daughter. Isn’t this something? The mother was elected leader of Non Aligned Nations and was said to be “leader of two-thirds of the world”! In Sri Lanka, women fear the rigors of electioneering unless they can muster enough males to support them. Only the bold ones have been successful. Americans do not know the many happenings during elections in Sri Lanka – they think elections here will be peaceful without threats. A woman who dared to imitate CBK was even forced to walk naked on the road, during a past election.

    justice
    February 16, 2017 at 7:12 pm
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      Ratnajeevan, Your condemnations, first of the media (“Social media comments on them are sexist, making degrading comments on their sexuality and personal life”) and then of Welgama as well as St. Thomas (“had taught him English without the manners to go with it”) seem haughty and self-righteous but woefully empty, in view of the following paragraph that you felt justified in writing in these columns just a couple of weeks ago. “Katubedde was a badly developed town – we played on the Tamil version of the name, rendering it as kaattu (jungle) paththai (bush). The girls and even married women around were villagers who were so awed by university students that some (one too many) would willingly go to bed. Given their poverty, they would bathe by street pipes and, as we passed by, soap themselves vigorously, loosening their saris at the chest and giggling at us. Many a Tamil boy from a cultured home lost his head. A few were forced to marry women they had made pregnant.” Why do you implicitly place the blame on the girls and not on the awe inspiring intellectual Tamil boys from cultured homes? Is it because they were poor? Or perhaps because they were “lesser-intellectuals”? Or, because they were just girls? Your resentment in “A few were forced to marry women they had made pregnant” did not go unnoticed either. What do you suggest should have happened instead? Do you not see anything sexist in your statement? Should your attitude be blamed on your Alma Mater too, just as you would cast aspersions on St. Thomas for Welgama’s weakness?

      Kumar R.
      February 16, 2017 at 8:17 pm
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        Kumar R. Given their poverty, they would bathe by street pipes and, as we passed by, soap themselves vigorously, loosening their saris at the chest and giggling at us. Don’t you think the statement above makes Hoole a Pervert and he was an impolite person and not a cultured person. If he was cultured who would look at bathing women ? Would he stare at the same way western women walking or standing in bikini ? does he thinks the same about western women in bikini ?

        jim softy
        February 16, 2017 at 9:02 pm
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          Jim, I almost never feel the sentiment to agree with what you write – but I am truly at a loss as how not to, this time. Perhaps I will not rush to the judgment that you make, but am truly saddened to see that education, even a very lofty one, does not elevate one sufficiently enough to take responsibility for one’s actions. I had previously raised this issue, advising Jeevan that “hit and run” is cowardice and unbecoming of a gentleman, educated or otherwise – That if one rams into Kattubedda intentionally or unintentionally, one needs to stop and take responsibility. Jeevan himself sanctimoniously advised in one of his earlier comments on the need for one to take responsibility for one’s mistakes. Not bigoted? I am immensely disappointed that Jeevan does not see, not just an opportunity, but as a rather absolute necessity, to take responsibility for his decision to dishonour and humiliate with, what I can even most charitably only characterize as a “gawdawful” paragraph – and in one stroke disparage the entirety of a Sinhala village, particularly all the women – “girls and even married women” as Jeevan wanted to clearly and exhaustively identify ! Had he written this paragraph in his early twenties, I may have given some latitude for “immaturity”. Just can’t believe one would still be burdened with such post-teen mentality at the ripe old age with just months to go for retirement! Yes Jim, I must agree with you on this one!

          Kumar R.
          February 16, 2017 at 9:50 pm
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          This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

          AJ
          February 16, 2017 at 9:54 pm
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          Jimmy, “If he was cultured who would look at bathing women ? Would he stare at the same way western women walking or standing in bikini ?” Have you ever been a young heterosexual man with normal eye sight? I have. “loosening their saris at the chest and giggling at us” Young heterosexual women trying to get attention from the opposite sex. Luckily no need to be young for this.

          Lone Wolf
          February 16, 2017 at 10:08 pm
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            Lone wolf, If, as you want to interpret, looking at bathing women is a phenomenon that is to be expected of “heterosexual men with normal eyes”, would it then not apply equally as a natural phenomena for the girls to do whatever the girls were doing?! What then is the basis for Jeevan’s complain? Why then are the girls more responsible than the Tamil boys for the ensuing torrid affairs and/or pregnancies that has Jeevan so concerned? Is it just because they are uneducated, because they are poor, or just that they are girls? And not Tamil boys, intellectuals, and from cultured homes? Sexist? Bigotry?! I hate to have to keep repeatedly extending this invitation for Jeevan to clarify and justify his statements or, if that was an inadvertent, yet grossly undue disparaging, then to take proper responsibility by apologizing to Katubadda as a village, and to all women in general. That alone will bring an end to this sorry paragraph from an established intellect. One cannot neutralize such disparaging of women by now suddenly (within two weeks?)turning sanctimonious with the pretention of celebrating women, and doing that by throwing stones at other men and other schools, forgetting one’s own stupid glass-house! “Hit and run” is not a choice! Period!! Hope there is realization that lame, cowardly, proxy-based defenses will only keep the issue alive.

            Kumar R.
            February 16, 2017 at 11:21 pm
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              Kumar R. would it then not apply equally as a natural phenomena for the girls to do whatever the girls were doing? Women like watching them. If not, why do they wear every thing and the everyway to make men happy. Some women, openly acknowledge it. Why wife buys cloths to make husband happy. The important thing here is men don’t understand it. Hoole watched bathing women. He does not blame that on his pervert mind. Instead blame the women. Anyway, Hoole does not write like an educated individual. some times I think, even his days, Jaffna A/L system was fradulent.

              jim softy
              February 17, 2017 at 12:37 am
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            Lone Wolf Have you ever been a young heterosexual man with normal eye sight? I have. You like to see naked women. but the “politeness” is you don’t blame it on the women . Instead, you need to accept that you are a pervert.

            jim softy
            February 17, 2017 at 12:33 am
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            Please see my note of apology to you in ELECTING A B.C. IN JAFFNA

            Manel Fonseka
            February 18, 2017 at 8:50 pm
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          Jimmy, “Would he stare at the same way western women walking or standing in bikini ?” To tell you the truth, I would, if they are young and shapely. But groping them is a no-no. We are all sex maniacs, whether we like like it or not. Otherwise we wouldn’t exist, would we? Don’t be hypocritical.

          old codger
          February 17, 2017 at 11:25 am
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      justice, “What was your father – why not divulge that too.” Still haven’t read the book I suggested some days ago? Heard of Wikipedia? The father was a reverend.

      Lone Wolf
      February 16, 2017 at 10:12 pm
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    S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole takes every opportunity to tell the world about himself and family. This self-centered attitude may be he reason why he is not held in high esteem-wise by Lankan academics except by Carlo Fonseka (see any issue of “The Lankan Academic”). By the way the said Carlo subscribes to the canard that the Jaffna Library fire was the work of LTTE – dressed as Lankan Police and Army in mufti.

    K.Pillai
    February 16, 2017 at 10:41 pm
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      Finally… something about the Tamil cause… how can anyone avoid the Tamil grievances, aspirations, self determination in any comment? To hell with the chinkalam. It should be all about Tamil,Tamil and Tamil!

      P U Kaymile
      February 17, 2017 at 12:03 am
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    Hoole I believe the majority of the students at Uduvil Girls College are Hindus. Are they allowed to attend the classes if holy ash is on their forehead? If there are any muslim girls will they be allowed to cover their head?

    Maya
    February 16, 2017 at 11:44 pm
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      maya, We are almost all Hindus but that is not a problem. There is freedom of Holy Ash. There are no muslims here.

      Uduvil Sumathy
      February 17, 2017 at 9:35 pm
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    Hoole, You claimed that you studied at Katubadda, so how come you can’t understand Sinhala language, but you understood what Welgama and Deshappriya said in Sinhala. [Edited out]

    John
    February 17, 2017 at 4:06 am
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    This must be a long standing practice of Vellala Tamils in Jaffna and Colombo. Although our Sinhala Vellalas used similar practices in the past, now their kids are adopting Western consumer practices.. That is “Try before you Buy”. Dr Ranil Wick’s new Batalanda Constitution however seem to go against the grain of this Vellala Tamil Cultural Practice. In fact Batalanda constitution is giving priority to the rights of the LGBT. And Batalanda is also planning to make Abortions legal under Yahapalanaya. The most Reverend Archbishop of Srilankan Catholic inhabitants has already come out expressing his objections. Wonder whether Professor Hool’s Vellala mates in the TNA will follow suit along with Suren Durendran and the ex LTTE Diaspora . There is no hope that Batalanda will send our Dalit chicks to Finishing Schools and groom them for Public Sector gigs.. They the great majority do not have even ALs let alone BSc MSc and PhDs.. They are still pushing to earn 1000 Bux a day in LKR of course. I gathered this from the income stats of the Provinces in Batalanda Ranil’s own Yahapalana CB Report for 2015. But the Dude who made the Report made .. over 11 Billion in just 12 months. I don’t think our Dalits read CB Reports. Nor do they understand Billions.

    K A Sumanasekera
    February 17, 2017 at 8:24 am
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    What a patriarchal speech! what if a woman doesn’t want a family? What if some young women in the audience happened to be queer? what if some of them wanted a rainbow family? What if some of them didn’t give a damn? The stuff about ‘distinct’ strengths etc is all bullshit based on patriarchal stereotypes. it’s a committed intersectional feminist, an reproductive justice activist, who should be addressing young women . not this dinosaur.

    janel
    February 18, 2017 at 5:21 am
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      janel, “What a patriarchal speech! what if a woman doesn’t want a family? What if some young women in the audience happened to be queer? what if some of them wanted a rainbow family? What if some of them didn’t give a damn? The stuff about ‘distinct’ strengths etc is all bullshit based on patriarchal stereotypes. it’s a committed intersectional feminist, an reproductive justice activist, who should be addressing young women . not this dinosaur.” The parents of the girls are paying the school. How radical stuff do they want their daughters to hear? How radical is the church that runs the school?

      Lone Wolf
      February 18, 2017 at 9:42 pm
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    Lone wolf, Are you suggesting this was somehow a church sanctioned, approved and/or perhaps even a sponsored speech opportunity. Was the church O.K. that Jeevan would use the opportunity to disparage St. Thomas college. Was it out of envy or out of a complex? Would his Alma Mater take responsibility for Jeevan’s recent pathetic paragraph on Katubadda? Was the church O.K. that Jeevan would say “thankfully I have heard no cry for women Iyers” – Why thankfully? Should women never aspire for such service opportunities to God, if she is a Hindu? Does that have anything to do with Jeevan’s perception of Temple dancers? I wondered if Jeevan took or arranged for this opportunity, not out of sincere equality concerns for women, but rather to publicly sanitize himself of the Katubadda fiasco about which he is now un-recoverably tongue-tied! In my very first ever response to his articles, in the article where he was pleading publicly for intervention or support on his University application, I suggested that he provides a little more background than merely the DSc title, to provide better reference of his proven credentials capabilities. He went on an inexplicable tirade, ending with that it would be beneath him to announce his qualifications so publicly. And, now how have the tables turned? He is ecstatic publicly grand-standing with not just his credentials, but that of his wife, even that of his mother?! WOW!! In addition, it wasn’t enough to tell that just to the Uduvil girls, but had the compulsion to declare loud enough for universal dissemination, in case someone missed it! If you think I am unfair or biased, check out other responses such as from Pillai’s for instance. Does Jeevan actually make an effort to think before he writes? Or is it the case that quantity rather than quality is of the essence for this academic, as someone else too pointed out. Signs of the “empty vessel” persuasion, would you say?

    Kumar R.
    February 19, 2017 at 1:37 am
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