Renewed efforts are being made to improve female representation in Sri Lankan politics by targeting the upcoming local government elections, which is an essential part of inclusive development. In fact local government has the lowest representation of women in all levels of governance and is a symbol of overwhelming challenges in attracting more women to politics.
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 in the Parliament out of 225 seats that formed the last Government. Females represent only 4.1% of seats in the Provincial Councils (PC), and 2.3% of seats in the Local Government (LG) bodies in Sri Lanka.
The new Government said in its policy manifesto that it would increase female representation to 25% at the provincial governing level, while encouraging all political parties to put forward 25% female candidates in coming elections. But this was not to be with past elections creating even less space to promote female candidates.
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.
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%, followed by Bolivia with 53% and Cuba with 49%. Both Senegal and South Africa have over 40% representation in Parliament. 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 Parliament. 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 proposed new Constitution, which will include election reforms, should also encompass discourse to revive female representation and should form its core. Politicians insist a new political culture has dawned; it is now time to prove it.