In many ways Sri Lanka’s latest Parliamentary Elections were historic but on one front, they failed to impress and that was on women representation. The number of women elected stood at 11 and with national list, appointments edged past the 12 women that were part of the last Parliament but the overall number still hovers at about 5%.
This is particularly disappointing given that women make up more than 50% of Sri Lanka’s population. More than 10 million citizens of this country are represented by just 13 or so people while the remaining population is represented by 220. While this is not necessarily the situation on the ground, there is undoubtedly an impact when Parliamentarians are called on to make policies that effect women more and their issues run the risk of being side-lined. Under-representation is a genuine political issue that should be addressed.
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Sri Lanka – with less than 6% representation in Parliament – ranks 128th out of 140 countries. Sri Lanka had only 13 women its last Parliament and represented only 4.1% of seats in the Provincial Councils (PC), and, before the change in legislation, only 2.3% of seats in the Local Government (LG) bodies.
Most parties have large women’s wings but these function only to promote male candidates. Women who are genuinely interested in pursuing politics do not have their ambitions promoted through these organisations. Ironically, women have to vote overwhelmingly for candidates or parties to gain a clear majority but are rarely given the chance to represent themselves.
Women are often judged more harshly for their track records than men and this was clearly on show at this election as well.
Of course, social attitudes, limited resources and entrenched political systems all play a role. However, in a country that has high numbers of intelligent, qualified and ambitious professionals, continued distance from the political sphere is a recipe for disaster. With few women in Parliament, it is almost impossible to make their voices heard when legislation is passed, but results are overwhelmingly felt by women.
To make matters worse, women Parliamentarians make no effort to promote female representation, often falling in line with entrenched practices that promote social stereotypes. They are more a part of the problem than the solution. None of the 11 women elected this time have ever spoken out or worked for women’s rights and fight shy of embracing feminism. Such retrograde behaviour has left no excuses for Sri Lanka.
Rwanda has the highest representation of women in Parliament with 64%. In the South Asian region, women’s representation in Parliament was: Nepal 29.5% (35th), Afghanistan 27.7% (39th), Pakistan 27.7% (64th), Bangladesh 20% (68th), India 12% (103rd), Bhutan 8.5% (120th), and Maldives 5.9% (127th). These statics shows female representation in Sri Lanka is the lowest in the region.
Deserving women should have a chance to represent themselves in all levels of governance. This should not be seen as an ‘us against them’ battle but rather an effort to improve good governance through inclusiveness, which largely overlaps minority concerns. The last round of US elections for Congress more women were elected and they have banded together to oppose many detrimental policies proposed by the Trump administration. Sri Lanka needs to start a similar process if it wishes to see the change it so badly desires.