At a recent international forum, ruling party MP Sudarshani Fernandopulle has admitted that the lowest female political representation in South Asia is in Sri Lanka. This was disclosed at a conference with the participation of female parliamentarians from six South Asian countries. Mrs. Fernandopulle pledged a comprehensive plan would be implemented to increase the political representation of females in the country. The ruling UPFA government is notorious for making pledges or promises and not keeping them. We hope Mrs. Fernandopulle’s pledge will also not be a victim of this tendency.
As pledged by the MP for Katana who took over from her slain husband, whether sending more female politicians to the parliament will solve most of the problem is another matter. Let aside political knowledge and political maturity of some of the female MPs who are already in parliament, what significant role those handful of women had played to uplift and promote the Sri Lankan women is another major question.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day this week, traditional annual celebrations and public protests will be there for media publicity and for the sake of the celebration. But there is so much to be done to introduce or implement a comprehensive and concrete solution to the problems of the women of Sri Lanka.
“A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women” is this year’s United Nations’ theme for the International Women’s Day on Friday. Ironically as the UN theme suggests, the broken promises to women seem, to be an international phenomenon and are not limited only to Sri Lanka.
Violations of the rights of women occur not only in the political and economic field but in the increasing sexual violence against women that we see in Sri Lanka. To change this attitude and create a different perception of the intrinsic rights of women and create a political ,social and economic equal gender environment will take a long time unless we are firm in our thinking and commitment that men and women are equal, though they play different roles in society. For example, thousands of mostly poor housemaids in the Middle-East are among the most vulnerable section as evidenced by so many events highlighted in the recent past. We have had reports of injured, tortured and paralyzed females returning to Sri Lanka in addition to a number of others coming in coffins.
Besides the mushrooming of agencies where most of these uneducated and under-aged girls are defrauded by being sent to the oil-rich Middle East, the suffering that thousands of them had to undergo is a shameful disgrace to Sri Lanka. Taking into account the huge amount of foreign exchange sent to our debt ridden country by these girls and women, the Foreign Employment Ministry has described them as ‘Rata Wiruwo’ or Heroes of the Country, and they could be placed next to the ‘Rana Wiruwo’ or War Heroes who fought to liberate the country. While these titles are appreciated we ask the ministry to examine whether these women have been given adequate protection and how much our missions abroad have fought for their interests? The answer might have more negatives than positives largely because a report tabled in parliament recently revealed that out of 45 Sri Lanka’s missions abroad as many as 33 are headed by political appointees—more deplo-muts than diplomats. We hope the government and our missions abroad will take consensus of the theme for International Women's Day and take action to see that women in Sri Lanka whether working abroad or here are treated with respect and that their rights are recognised.