Women in politics
The Government is giving its thought to increasing
women's representation at the upcoming Local Government election
according to Prime Minister D M Jayaratne. He said the
groundwork has already been laid for this. The Premier did not
elaborate. Hopefully this would be the first step towards more
and more women entering Parliament.
It is time that our present day women who have excelled in
many fields and breached male bastions take up the challenge and
enter the fray. Beside adorning our legislature with their fair
presence they could also be a calming influence in the August
Assembly which has not exactly covered itself with glory in the
recent past where the conduct of its members are concerned.
At present the Local Government election law makes it
mandatory for a 33 percent youth representation - that is those
below 35 years - at all Local Government elections. With women
comprising 53 percent of our population why cannot a similar
quota be set apart for our women in the national Parliament?
After all, women are the major contributors to the country's
foreign exchange earnings and our women's literacy rate is
higher than in other South Asian countries. Besides today they
have broken out of the shackles that bound them to the dictates
of a highly conservative society in the past. Women have
breached the male citadels in the professions, entrepreneurship,
in the field of sports and a myriad other disciplines.
But they have been given a raw deal in terms of political
representation. This despite all the highfalutin talk about
women's emancipation and equal rights for women. What use are
all those conferences and workshops held in five star hotels
claiming to usher in a renaissance of women when they are being
all but shut out from direct representation of the public?
Today in all SAARC countries including the highly Islamic
Pakistan there is a conspicuous presence of women in the
National Assembly. This is so even in some of the African
countries noted for male dominance in politics. Regrettably in
Sri Lanka which produced the world's first woman Prime Minister
there are only 13 women MPs in the 225 member Parliament.
Although seven decades have passed since our women received
universal adult franchise, women representation in Parliament
had being a consistent four percent. It is even much lower at
Local Government level. This, despite the pioneering role played
by some of our prominent women legislators in the immediate post
independence era which one would have thought would have acted
as a catalyst for women to enter the political fray in their
True, these pioneer women were strictly products of the
system. They either came from political families or political
backgrounds or were thrusts into politics to take over the
mantle of their husbands. They were also from affluent
backgrounds which provided them with the wherewithal to indulge
in the game of politics and compete on par with their male
counterparts in the fray.
Hardly any woman politician emerged of their own volition.
Perhaps our strict hierarchical society which consigned women to
the far corner in the totem pole, a highly male dominated social
milieu and the general conservative backdrop where women could
not fit into existing scheme of things all contributed towards
our women shying away from the limelight. And they certainly
could not have fitted into a such a high octane bruising
discipline such as politics.
But as mentioned our women have come a long way from those
cloistered days. Many have shown the way with some aspiring to
the very top. Today there are women politicians who can lay
claim to fame in their own right without the advantage of family
Perhaps the violent nature of present day politics, the money
and muscle power required to emerge winner and the highly
unwieldly Preferential voting system that requires extensive
campaigning on a district level have deterred women from
entering the fray.
It is in this context that the decision to hold the upcoming
Local Government election doing away with the Preference vote is
a commendable move by the Government which hopefully will open
the doors for more and more women politicians entering
representative bodies and playing a pro-active role in national