Long-struggled women’s quota | Daily News


Long-struggled women’s quota

The numbers are out. The new Local Authorities system designed to have 25% women is a resounding success.

The Local Authorities Elections Ordinance required nominations to be on two lists – List 1 for the Wards, consisting of 60% of the seats of a local authority, and List 2 for the old Proportional Representation (PR) system making up the remaining 40%. Ten percent of the ward nominations had to be of women and 50% of the whole should have been of women.

After some complex computations and neglecting some nominal numbers like overhang, the 10% women from the 60% ward-seats would have returned 6% seats for women out of the whole (if the nominees were as good as the men). And 50% seats for women out of the 40% PR seats would have yielded 20% women representatives – that is 25% women if the selections for PR seats is done justly by the political parties nominating members.

This new system, say women’s groups, is the brainchild of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who agreed to what the women had been asking for, for decades.

Provincial Council elections

What do the numbers tell us? Out of 5092 representatives elected to wards, women are 537 – that is 10.55%. With only 10% women contesting for the ward seats, more have been elected. This means the public are not at all averse to women representatives.

And then overall, out of the total 8698 representatives (Ward+PR), there are 1991 women – making up a total of 22.89%. Although a little less than the targeted 25%, there are a few more women to come.

The Provincial Council elections are next. The legislation is ready providing for one-sixth women. I do not know why it is not a quarter as for the Local Councils -- the government had rather foolishly scaled back its ambitious and commendable programme for women without even testing the new system.

Now the new system has proved to yield the expected outcome of accommodating women. Despite this success, the Daily Mirror of 19.03.2018 reports that there is a consensus among political parties to revert to the now abolished system with all seats by PR. Minister Rauff Hakeem spoke of complications in the election to local authorities as the reason why they want to go back to the old system.

What complications? Stuff and nonsense! Old men who literally controlled 98+ percent of the seats in local authorities are resentful that they now have only 75%, and that the people really voted for the women who were elected.

There is nothing wrong with the new system. After the elections, when the parties were asked by the Election Commission to nominate women for the vacant PR seats, some either did not respond, or responded partially or sent in the names of men where they ought to have sent in women. The Election Commission after waiting beyond the deadline we had imposed finally published the gazette without the names that should have been submitted, or after deleting the last of the men’s names where the men’s names should have been women’s. For example if a party was asked by the Commission to nominate 2 men and 2 women, and instead if they had sent in 3 men and 1 woman, the third man on their list in excess did not get his name published in the gazette. We published only the first two names of the men and the woman’s. We did not do this arbitrarily but only after telling them that this is what we would do if they did not comply. So, even now, if they send us the missing female names, we would be happy to issue a new gazette with these supplementary names. This is why I said more female names would come in.

I understand that there is party infighting as to which men should be nominated even when men are eligible. This is why some parties have missed the deadline. In their inability to decided, they blame the Election Commission and the new system.

Success story

Like spoilt brats, politicians speak of the burden they need to carry in nominating women. What burden when the public has elected more than 10% the parties had to nominate for wards? How are women a burden when they do satisfactory work as doctors, teachers and administrators, well in excess of their numbers? How, when Colombo has had a stellar mayor and even female doctors elected? What burden to parties when the women are the parties’ own nominees, and they had every opportunity to find independent women who can serve the nation and their party well?

These men treated women with disrespect and carelessly nominated women just for the sake of filing nominations, women who they now think are unfit to be nominated. Serves them right I say! Boo to them!

Now that women are in place in Councils, let us make sure they have a chance to prove their mettle. We must support them, regardless of their party, and ensure that they succeed.

The Prime Minister, after the political parties made representations to go back to PR for the provincial councils, agreed to have more talks with them.

I urge Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe not to even think of any more talks. This is a success story this government can rightly boast of – where 52% of the population, our women, had their political rights recognized. Why would the Prime Minister turn his back on what is his lasting legacy to this nation? 

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