Advocates combat violence against women in elections | Daily News

Advocates combat violence against women in elections

With a new elections quota for women in politics, the National Forum Against Gender-based Violence launched a campaign Friday to highlight the problem of violence against and harassment of women during political elections.

“We often underestimate the extent of violence against women in elections,” Forum’s Chairperson and United Natons Population Fund Representative Ritsu Nacken said. She was speaking at the “Elect Her” campaign launch at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute at Horton Place yesterday.

Nacken said such violence,which includes women being coerced to vote a certain way, discouraged from voting at all, and being slandered publicly for contesting office – deters many women from running at all.

Even though 52 percent of Sri Lanka’s population are women, female representation in Parliament stands at only 5.3 percent, forum organizers said. That number is even worse at the local level: women hold only 1.9 percent of local and provincial seats.

Swarna Sumanasekara, the Chairperson of the National Committee on Women, said that disparity is largely attributable to culture.“We are still living in a cultural society where women have a secondary place,” she said.

DIG Priyantha Jayakody agreed, saying there were many “cultural restrictions” that kept women from participating in elections.“In my 25 years I have come across so many bad incidents in my personal experience,” he said. He cited the example of a woman in Wariyapola who was stripped naked and led outside by gunpoint because her perpetrators perceived her to be campaigning.

He said the police were “very much aware” of increased violence towards women during elections, and would work to make polling locations and public forums safe.

Parliament recently passed the Local Elections Act to create a 25 percent mandatory quota for women in elections.

Election Commission Deputy Commissioner Samantha Jayasinghe said this move would go a long way towards bringing more women into politics, which he said was “vital for the democracy of this country.”But making that quota may be harder than some officials predict.

Speaking after the event, Udeni Thewarapperuma, a gender consultant with the United Nations Population Fund, said women at the grassroots level face numerous barriers to politics.

The pervasive threats of sexual bribery for access to resources and influence, and the likelihood of character assassination on social media, drive many potential women leaders away from the political arena, she said.

A caravan carrying a pledge to respect women’s right to participate in politics will travel the island over the next 16 days. Organisers like Thewarapperuma hope that education at a local level can start to break the stigma that keeps so many women from contesting elections. 


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