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Electoral reforms: What about women?

7 May 2015 07:46 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Electoral reforms have become the hottest topic in debate at present. Despite the various promises the good governance regime has granted or is willing to, there are certain shortcomings in this new initiative. Women’s rights have been an issue that has needed consistent attention from those in power. 

Although many women’s rights activists and organizations worked in favour of the good governance concept with some new hope, a question remains as to whether their voices have been heard. 

Following is an insight of the memo which was drafted by two lawyers and rights activists Dr. Nimalka Fernando and Shamila Daluwatte on behalf of the  Women’s Political Academy and the International Movement against all forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR).


Highlights of the memo
This memo has been developed after several consultations with various women’s groups, organizations and political activists. Its main aim is to strengthen women’s political participation while requesting the new government to observe national and international commitments to women’s rights and to promote women’s political rights in line with pledge number 14 given by the government in ‘A new Sri Lanka for Women’ and pledge number 30 of the 100 days programme. 

The memo aims to :
  • Recognize gender equality between men and women while understanding that it is fundamental to create a just and equal society in Sri Lanka
  • Acknowledge that 52% of the population in Sri Lanka which comprises of women and therefore to consider that women are the majority of voters and workers
  • Emphasize on the extremely low participation and representation of women in politics and public life, including a low representation of women in parliament, provincial councils and local authorities and at decision-making level
  • Consider that high costs of the electoral campaigns and a violent political culture create barriers for women who might wish to contest for elections
  • Note that the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution has not included any provisions to introduce a quota for women in order to enhance substantial quality for women

Electoral Reforms
As mentioned at the beginning, electoral reforms have become a major area of concern with regard to the new constitution. This memo in Women’s Political Participation and Decision-Making with regard to Electoral reforms too touches on this topic. In this section the memo recommends to :
  • Reform local governance with a view towards providing a 25% quota for women in local government bodies,
  • Appoint one-third of women from the National List at the Parliamentary elections
  • Clearly define the current allocation of 25% for youth in the local government elections act, in a way that half of nominations should go to women,
  • Lobby for law reforms mandating a quota system , applicable to members appointed by the national list, for women in Parliamentary elections, provincial council elections and in local government bodies,
  • Pay attention to law reforms in other South Asian countries which reserve quotas for women.
  • Take examples such as the Seventy-third Amendment to the Constitution of India which created a 33 percent quota for women in Panchayat Raj and, accordingly, bring a Constitutional Amendment in Sri Lanka for reserving not less than one-third of the total number of seats to be filled by direct election of women in all local government bodies 


Public Appointments
In terms of public appointments, women don’t get much attention. It is quite common to see male-dominated institutions which often exercise biased decisions. Women should be involved at decision-making level and it is a key component in gender equality. As such the memo urges to :
  • Appoint women to one-third of the membership of all other commissions such as the Judicial Service Commission, Police Commission, Public Service Commission, Bribery Commission and Elections Commission
  • Establish a system and specific targets for creating gender balance in public appointments to governmental and semi-governmental bodies, committees, public administrative entities, judicial offices, government ministries, diplomatic missions as well as in the appointments to boards, corporations and universities,
  • Increase the presence of women in post-war reconciliation bodies such as the Presidential Task Force and the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

Political Parties
Why women are not given leadership positions is another question that should be raised. Other than the two occasions in which Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Chandrika Kumarathunge were appointed to ruling positions, there has been less to none occasions to celebrate women in power. Realizing this as another vital component in women’s participation, the memo requests to :
  • Increase the number of women in leadership positions, non-elective public positions and political bureaus with political parties,
  • Direct all political parties to reserve one-third of nominations for women at all elections,
  • Strengthen women’s wings of political parties aimed at building a critical mass of women’s leaders in strategic decision-making positions within political parties,
  • Allocate funds to enhance leadership, public speaking and political campaigning skills in order to assist young women and girls, particularly prospective female candidates to encourage them to take up decision-making positions.

Shamila Daluwatte (BA, Political Science) and Dr. Nimalka Fernando, both lawyers representing women’s voices in the legal field drafted this memo on behalf of the Women’s Political Academy to be considered by all political parties along with the guidance of the President, the Prime Minister, and the Cabinet.

Women comprise of 52 percent of the population and 56 percent of voters in Sri Lanka. Therefore, the new government should include constitutional provisions to reserve a 25-30 percent quota for women in local government elections as promised by the Presidential Manifesto Article 14 of the “New Sri Lanka for Women” and the Article 30 of the 100 Days Programme. 

In addition, the National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights section 5(1) states that thirty percent (30%) minimum representation of women in Parliament, Provincial Councils, and local authorities should be included. Taking these pledges and promises into account, women’s rights groups vehemently urge the new government to take women’s rights seriously and give prominence to women’s political rights by including 25 percent quota for women in local government bodies by bringing changes to the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution with immediate effect. 

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