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Women’s political enthusiasm must be encouraged

12 Mar 2024 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

Sri Lankan women seem to have gained an unprecedented and considerable importance in Sri Lankan politics lately, thanks to the record gatherings of women by JVP/NPP as a part of their show off of power, as the major elections are around the corner. 
These gatherings have some sort of copycat effect on some other political parties as well, which is also a good sign, as far as women’s politics is concerned. 
It is within that context that the International Women’s Day fell on March 8. Yet, we could witness comparatively fewer commemorative events and media concerns this year, in view of that day. 

The need for women’s politics has been felt for a long time not only as they are half or more of the population, but also in most so-called developing countries they play a subservient role in politics, giving up the decision-making right to men in the family, the father, brothers, husband or sons.  Very rarely do women make political decisions totally independent of the male relatives.  
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) “Sri Lanka was ranked 86 (with a value of 0.380) out of 162 countries in the 2018 Gender Inequality Index (GII) and in the Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI) 2018 developed by the World Economic Forum which considers economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, Sri Lanka rose to the rank100 out of 144 countries, narrowing the gender gap. The data presents a mixed picture of gender equality in Sri Lanka, in which while women have basic capabilities with access to education and health, they continue to face structural barriers, grounded in cultural and attitudinal biases that limit their full engagement in the political and economic spheres.”
The voices of the women in Sri Lanka - who are affected by inequality in economic opportunities and the repercussions of it on the lives of families, especially those families belonging to the low-income group - were ironically not heard sufficiently either through political platforms or mainstream media or social media. 
Sri Lanka’s current economic crisis led to the authorities to declare bankruptcy in April 2022 by announcing its first sovereign default. The crisis had taken a huge toll on individual families, especially those belong to the middle class and below. 
The resultant pressure on women in those families and the emotional and psychological trauma in them as performers of care duties - especially as mothers – have still been immense. 
According to President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s policy statement presented on February 7, the country’s total debt burden by September 2023 was US$ 91 billion. It will take a considerable time to settle the debt, he said.  Interestingly, it is the women as plantation workers, apparel factory workers in the Free Trade Zones and migrant domestic workers in West Asian countries who play the main role in repaying these debts, while working under appalling conditions.
That is why their voices must be heard aloud. According to the UNDP, “Sri Lanka ranks among the lowest in the area of female representation in politics in South Asia, despite having had female heads of state for 22 out of 69 years of post-independence history. The country is ranked 182 out of 192 in the Inter Parliamentary Union ranking of female representation in Parliament, with only 5.3% of Parliamentary seats occupied by women  which is a little better than Maldives at 4.7%. 

“In the last local government elections, the Parliament passed legislation in 2016 and 2017 to introduce a 25% and 30% mandatory quota for women at local government and provincial council levels  respectively.” Unfortunately, women were able to win the mandatory 25% seats in only 59 out of the 340 local authorities in 2018. The low participation of women in politics continues due to structural barriers of patronage and patriarchy (where men are the gate keepers) entrenched in stereotypical negative norms and attitudes that do not promote the entry of women into the political arena” the UN agency observes. 
Women’s issues must be heard loudly for the authorities to be pressed to address them. Hence, the political enthusiasm currently emerging among them has to be encouraged.