Reading the online population clock yesterday afternoon, we learnt that Sri Lanka’s population was 21,104,713 with 10,691,994 or 50.7 per cent female and 10,412,719 or 49.3 per cent male. During this year Sri Lanka’s population is projected to increase by 197, 057 people and reach 21,295,218 in the beginning of next year.
Despite the majority being female the role and the level of representation for women have been undervalued, underrated and undermined for reasons ranging from subtle male chauvinism or domination and ignorance of the reality that without the ingenuity and intuition of feminine wisdom, male decision making is flawed.
After decades of broken promises and delays, the National Government on Tuesday, thankfully presented a bill seeking to create 1,495 slots for women in local councils. At present there are 4,486 members in 335 local councils. According to the new bill, the number of local council members will be increased by one third of the current number.
“In the appointment, in accordance with the order of priority ranking, of the number of women members to be returned from all the wards of such local authority areas among the recognized political parties and independent groups, the Commissioner of Elections shall take into consideration the number of valid votes polled by each recognised political party and independent group in all the wards of such local authority areas,” the bill says.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe now playing a vital role in formulating and implementing the midterm socio-economic strategy, has repeatedly assured that the level of representation for women in Parliament will also be increased to the same proportion as in local councils.
While commending the National Government for taking this important step to implement one of its priority promises, we also urge that special attention be given to moral and socio-economic factors relating to more than 1.5 million Sri Lankan girls and mothers who are often forced by circumstances to go to the red-hot Middle East for employment.
Yesterday we saw more scenes of desperation, despair and destitution when about 90 girls and mothers were flown back from Kuwait where they claimed they underwent the torture of slave labour and even physical or psychological harassment if not something worse.
The issues are complex. On the one hand millions of people are trapped in enslaved poverty here due to lack of suitable employment and many are forced to go to the Middle East, though they know the dangers involved.
There have been some official executions under Sharia law, including the widely publicized case of teenager Rizana Nafeek. Over the years hundreds have been brought back in coffins while hundreds of others are known to be going through the agony of physical and sexual abuse. The moral disaster here has also been horrible. Hundreds of families have broken up while the daughters left behind have undergone the torment of rape or sexual abuse sometimes even by their fathers.
Collectively it is a shame and a disgrace that Sri Lanka’s largest source of foreign exchange is from this morally corrupt social tragedy. Figures show that Sri Lanka officially gets at least US$7,000 million annually from what is largely human slavery. The unofficial figure may be about one billion US dollars more. Though so much is sent by so many at such a huge cost to themselves and their families the protection given to Sri Lankan girls and mothers by our diplomatic missions in those countries needs to be strengthened immediately. These are supposed to be difficult stations but the government must ensure that leading diplomats, preferably females, are posted there to give maximum protection to our girls and mothers till a long term solution is found mainly by providing suitable employments here. Protecting our mothers and women is like protecting Mother Lanka. The government and the people need to give high priority to this mission.