More women in politics | Daily News

More women in politics

Newspapers reported yesterday that the Government has drafted an amendment to the Provincial Councils Elections Act of 1988 to make it mandatory for 30 percent of the total number of candidates included in a nomination paper to be female.

The amendment apparently empowers the Elections Commission to reject any nomination paper which does not contain the number of female candidates required to be nominated. The Local Authorities Act was amended in 2016 to make provision for 30 percent of those included in nominations lists to be female candidates for Local Government elections.

This is great news, since both Provincial Council and Local Government elections will now include at least 30 percent women in the nominations process. Granted, there is no guarantee that they will all enter the respective political institution, but this gives voters a pool to choose from and at least some of them will make it through.

For a country that produced the world’s first woman Prime Minister (Sirimavo Bandaranaike), our track record in terms of women in politics is abysmally poor.

The present Parliament has only a handful of women MPs and Ministers, which is pathetically low for a flourishing democracy that has had universal franchise long before gaining independence in 1948. There are only a few women representatives at provincial councils and local bodies. This is not a healthy state of affairs at all, because the voice of women really matters.

At the grassroots level, it is women who know social and development needs. Women have an intimate knowledge of all development and social shortcomings faced by the village community. This is why it is important to give them a voice – and the power – right from the grassroots level to implement these projects.

There is another disconcerting factor – most, if not all, of the women in politics now have more or less “inherited” politics from their fathers, uncles or brothers. It is extremely rare for a women candidate with no such connections to emerge. This anomaly should be actively addressed by political parties.

They should search for women who are already active in grassroots NGOs, various professional societies and community organisations. These are ideal platforms for launching a long political career, because they possess a fairly good idea of the needs of their areas.

Lankan women are politically savvy. They in fact form the majority of the voting population. Go to any polling booth on an election day and see which line is longer – the females’ queue, invariably. This shows how keen women are to exercise their franchise. They have a very good knowledge of political news and trends. Their opinions are valuable and their verdicts are often spot on. As to why this is not translated into greater political representation for women is a mystery.

But one factor becomes clear: women are not voting for women in sufficient numbers. This is a shame, because the demand for more women in Parliament and other political bodies should emanate from women themselves. If women also overwhelmingly vote for male candidates, there will be little place for women in politics. Women candidates too should make an extra effort to reach out to women constituents.

There are a number of other issues that discourage more women from entering the fray. In Sri Lanka, it is difficult to enter the political field if you do not have the right ‘connections’ which often means a family background in politics. An effort should be made to defy this trend.

Another impediment for prospective women candidates is funding, or rather the lack of it. Candidates need a lot of money to contest an election, especially under the PR system. We hope that the upcoming elections will be held under the proposed new electoral system that creates a more level playing field. Propaganda material and meetings cost millions of rupees. There should be a mechanism where the political parties subsidise a part of the campaign for novice women politicians.

The violence associated with the electioneering process is another potent factor that drives women, especially new entrants, away from the political stage. They are completely alien to this environment and do not want to get entangled in clashes with other (mostly male) candidates.

However, there is a chance that the level of violence would be greatly diminished once the new electoral system is introduced. Women already in politics must help identify prospective political aspirants in their electorates and pave the way for them to come forward. This will help dispel any fears and doubts that may be initially entertained by the new candidates.

The media too have a major role to play. They should highlight the success stories of women who have taken to politics here and abroad, including those without any family connections to politics. This will help plant the seeds of a political career in the minds of many more women and at least some of them are likely to turn their thoughts into concrete action. That is exactly what we need now to enliven and enrich a political landscape mostly devoid of female representation.


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