UNP MP Rosy Senanayake was recently appointed the spokesperson for Violence Against Women, from the South Asian Regional Network of Women Parliamentarians.
By Dianne Silva
UNP MP Rosy Senanayake speaks on the political rights of women in the fourth installment celebrating Women’s Day (8th March). Q.There is this perception that since Sri Lanka had the first female Prime Minister in the world, there is space for political activity of women in the country, but how far do you think we have progressed since that initial step?
I don’t think we have progressed at all since the fight for Universal Franchise was won in 1927; and Sri Lanka achieved this in 1931. We reached this milestone because our grandmothers fought for it. Six months after we had universal franchise, there was 5 per cent representation of women in politics, including minority women. Eighty two years have passed but nothing more has been achieved.
I really appreciate Sirimavo Bandaranaike and the fact that she put us on the world map and before she came into politics, she played a big role as the first lady. She achieved a lot even while she was under her husband’s shadow.
However there are very few women who have succeeded politically unless they had a readymade voter base. Today women are generally not given the chance to enter politics, unless the party leaders feel that there is a readymade voter base for them.
Even in the present parliament there are 225 members, only 13 are women and it is only Paba and I that have come into politics based on our own merit, without a tailor made voter base.
If you take our representation of women on a national level, it is only 5.8 per cent one of the lowest in the world. Countries like the Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan have surpassed us. Although when it comes to gender based indicators, like health and education, Sri Lanka is well ahead of these countries—yet we lag behind when it comes to representation.
Even if you take the corporate sector it is the same. For instance 75 per cent at the law college and law faculty are women, but we have very few prominent female lawyers and judges.
Q.Are women in Sri Lanka aware of their political rights?
I think that where ever they are, women always take the lead when it comes to the family and they are the ones that always get things done. For instance at the grassroots level, women are the ones who will take the lead even in community based organizations. Further women are active when it comes to garnering votes for any leaders that they may feel passionate about.
However there is still this perception that politics is a man’s game and unless this is changed then we won’t see more women in politics.
More needs to be done to promote awareness, because despite the fact that we say women and men are equal and this is enshrined in the Human Rights Charter and our Constitution—do we see this in action? Women in this country still feel that they are second class citizens.
In this country we see that women take the responsibility for the household, if their men don’t do it the women go out to work and provide for the family. Every, one in three (1/3) households is headed by a woman in Sri Lanka.
Q.Do you think the present legal, social and electoral systems are conducive for women to enter politics?
I don’t think it is conducive at all, especially the Proportional Representation system. Which is why it is a good thing that the Local Government Bill is coming about, it will give more opportunity for women. Under the proportional representation system women are at a big disadvantage due to the gun culture, violence, character assassination and corruption.
Further even our mindset is geared in such a way that disadvantages the women. The girl child in the home is confined to domestic activities while the boy child is venerated and given even the bigger portion of food. In such an instance, there is no democracy and equality in the home, how can we expect it in the country? This mindset needs to be changed to empower women to take on a leadership role. Further we need a change in the laws that are discriminatory towards women.
Women face violence in so many ways its not just physical, and if you look at the papers these days you see how women are subjected to abuse—because our people are not trained in conflict resolution, therefore every conflict ends in violence.