However, the law might press to find capable women to represent in the long run
Despite the progressive aspect of the recent laws for the increase of female participation in Provincial Councils and Local Government bodies, almost all political parties irrespective of their outreach and ethnicity they represent seem to be facing a challenge in implementing the relevant laws. This is more so in respect of small parties especially the Tamil and Muslim parties.
The recent amendments introduced to the Provincial Councils Elections Act and the Local Authorities Elections Act have made it mandatory for the political parties and the independent groups contesting elections to include 30 percent and 25 percent of female candidates in their nomination papers respectively. All political parties seem to be struggling to find candidates, not to raise the female participation in politics but to fulfil this legal requirement.
Hence, there is every possibility on the part of the political parties to resort to many manipulations.
Though no political party had ever opposed thus far the laws promulgated providing for female representation, lest they would be branded as archaic or “fundamentalist” apart from the fact that they too accept the progressiveness for the purpose of the laws, all political parties were well aware that the laws were challenging or impossible to implement in some areas.
This is not purely because of the relative backwardness of the women in social life, but also because of their hesitation or inability to cope with the current political and social cultures in the country.
Yet, women are reported as highest Foreign Exchange Earners in Sri Lanka, declaring 6 billion US$ in the year 2014 through migrating as housemaids according to a report issued by the Law and Society Trust last year which had quoted the Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce as its source. The other highest foreign exchange generating industries are Textile and Garment (44%), Tea (14%), Rubber and Rubber based products which too have a sizable female workforce, the report further says.
Sri Lanka has the least representation of women in the region. Less than 3% provincially and national politics has only about 5%. Even Afghanistan, a country that is new to democracy has about 28-30%
It is no doubt that the sections pertaining to the female representation in the recently adopted Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Act and the highly controversial Provincial Councils Elections (Amendment) Act were progressive in nature, given the composition of the Sri Lankan population. Despite the female population in the country forming nearly 52 percent of the total population and Sri Lanka boasting about having the world’s first woman Prime Minister, female representation in any of the people’s representation bodies, at the local level or national level, has never exceeded 6.5 percent of the total members of those bodies.
Parliament has had the highest female participation in number as well as a percentage so far, with women members constituting 6.5 percent of the National State Assembly elected at the 1977 General election.
Eleven female members had been elected at that election, the only election held to elect the National State Assembly while 13 members, the highest number in the history had been elected or appointed after the general elections in 1989, 2004, 2010 and 2015. However, with the number of members increasing from 168 to 225 since the 1989 General Elections the female participation in the Parliament had gone down to 5.7 in percentage, despite the numerical strength of women in the House having shot up to 13at that election and several other elections later.
Quoting Rohana Hettiraratchchi, the Executive Director of the Peoples Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), the report points out where Sri Lanka stands in the region, in respect of female representation in politics.
“Sri Lanka has the least representation of women in the region. Less than 3% provincially and national politics has only about 5%. Even Afghanistan, a country that is new to Democracy has about 28-30%. In India the representation is not much at the national level, however, there is active participation in the provincial level” it stated.
Though the laws have been introduced to increase women’s representation in the PCs and the LG bodies no laws have been brought in with respect of women’s representation in Parliament
Though the laws have been introduced here to increase women’s representation in the Provincial Councils and the Local Government bodies no laws have been brought in with respect of women’s representation in Parliament. The laws already introduced are very complicated and are going to be put to test for the first time at the forthcoming Local Government elections for 93 of which nominations have been called by the Elections Commission. According to the recently adopted Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Act political parties and independent groups have to submit two nomination papers, The first one which is containing names of the candidates contesting for each ward of the relevant Local Government body should include ten percent of female candidates.
The other list would contain names of candidates of whom some would be elected to the respective body to commensurate the number of members the party is entitled to, under the Proportional Representation system. Fifty percent of that list should contain female candidates.
As Nizam Kariyappar, the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) says, preparation the first nomination paper would be the challenging task for the political parties as the nominees including the women should have the winning capacity and qualities to be elected.
Under the PR system, a woman candidate could be ignored or let to be defeated by other candidates of the same party, as allegedly happened to Rosy Senanayake in the Colombo District at the last Parliamentary election.
However, the party cannot ignore any candidate, man or woman, contesting for wards under the new system, as otherwise, the party would lose the seats allocated for the wards it has been defeated in.
Minority parties, especially the Muslim parties and the parties representing the up-country Tamils are the ones that are going to face the brunt of the new law on women’s representation, due to cultural reasons. Muslim parties have so far produced only two women Parliamentarians(JVP’s Anjan Umma and National Unity Alliance’s (NUA) Ferial Ashraff) and two local councillors Ayesha Rauf (first Muslim woman Deputy Mayor in 1952 in Colombo Municipality) and Salma Hamza (Kattankudy Pradeshiya Sabha). Anjan Umma was the only Muslim provincial councillor so far.
The up-country Tamils had only one member in any of the people’s representation bodies. Anusha Sivarajah represented the Central Provincial Council.
N.M. Ameen, the President of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka which is an amalgam of more than 50 Muslim organisations and the Editor of Navamani newspaper says that finding women candidates would be a daunting task for the Muslim parties given the local Muslim culture and the current political culture in the country.
He points out that one who enters politics has to be prepared to insult and to be insulted and subject to character assassination and it would be very difficult for the women in certain minority communities, who live an insular life. However, the General Secretary of the National Front for Good Governance (NFGG) Naja Mohamed says his party would field a strong team of women for election for the Kattankudy Pradeshiya Sabha.
Hassan Ali, the former General Secretary of the SLMC and currently a leader of the “Pure Muslim Congress” a newly formed grouping observes that many parties would field what he called “dummy female candidates” just to fill the nomination papers.
If this happens the purpose of the law would be lost, as there is a possibility of some of the “dummies” winning.
However, the law also might press the parties to find capable women to represent them, in the long run.